Judging from the easy passage of an abortion-rights bill in the state Senate yesterday, the General Assembly could complete work on this emotional issue late this week -- a fast-track strategy designed to get legislators out of the pressure-cooker in a hurry.
What a difference a year makes! At this point in the 1990 General Assembly session, the legislature was still dithering over the abortion question, making light of threats by Senate opponents to filibuster any proposal that would liberalize Maryland's abortion law. That filibuster did indeed take place, paralyzing the legislature and bringing strong criticism from irate citizens who wanted action -- not inaction -- from their elected leaders.
Now the Senate has done just that. In short order, it voted 29-18 to guarantee women in Maryland the same rights to an abortion they now have under the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision of 1973. The bitterness and name-calling that marred last year's debate failed to reappear. Backers of the abortion-rights bill are halfway home.
House leaders also plan quick action on the measure. They feel the issue has been discussed, argued and debated so often in the last session and the last election campaign that all that is left is to vote on the Senate bill. They, too, want to get off the abortion hot-seat.
The one sticking point concerns a provision requiring parental notification for a girl under 18 to obtain an abortion. The section is broadly worded so physicians can by-pass this requirement if they deem it appropriate. But purists supporting the bill want no restraints on women, while opponents demand far stronger language to restrict a pregnant teen's actions without her parents' consent.
Any tinkering with the Senate bill runs the risk of giving foes another shot at derailing the abortion measure later in the session. This is why abortion-rights leaders in the House yesterday endorsed passage of the Senate version without any changes. If their strategy succeeds, an abortion-rights bill could be on Gov. William Donald Schaefer's desk in a matter of days.
The bill seems to meet most of the conditions laid down by Mr. Schaefer last Sept. 22 when he ended months of waffling and announced he was a pro-choice governor. His moment of truth -- to sign or not to sign -- is likely to come next week. The House should enact the Senate bill forthwith and the governor should waste no time signing the measure into law. As Mr. Schaefer noted last fall, "the women of Maryland should make [abortion] decisions for themselves based on their personal moral and religious views." The Senate bill would make that possible.