Abortion foes gear up for drive to overturn new law in 1992 ballot

March 09, 1991|By Sandy Banisky

Abortion opponents, fresh from a loss in the Maryland legislature, are making battle plans for a long predicted fight on a new front: a campaign to overturn the state's new abortion-rights law at referendum in November 1992.

"It's got to be done," said Walter H. Maloney Jr., a Prince George's County lawyer and longtime anti-abortion activist.

Mr. Maloney -- the father of Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, leader of the House's abortion opponents -- called himself a member of an "ad-hoc, loose-jointed group" that is laying the foundation for a referendum campaign.

He said the group did not yet have the endorsement of large organizations with big campaign treasuries, but he added that he was not concerned.

"It's better if we do it with a lot of money," Mr. Maloney said. "But it's going to be done if we have 10 cents or $10 million."

In 1988, the National Rifle Association spent more than $6 million and lost a referendum campaign against handgun controls. Mr. Maloney said that big-budget loss did not concern him.

"They had a bad cause, and we don't," he said.

This week, the Maryland attorney general's office approved the language that Mr. Maloney will use on a petition requesting that the new abortion law be put before the voters on the next state ballot.

OC The law -- passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. William

Donald Schaefer Feb. 18 -- would allow abortion without government interference until the time in pregnancy when the fetus might survive outside the womb.

Later in pregnancy, abortion would be allowed only to save the life or health of the woman or if the fetus were deformed.

The law is intended to keep abortion legal in Maryland even if the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which guaranteed the right to abortion.

Abortion opponents have condemned the new legislation as the most liberal in the country.

The measure's supporters say it merely will continue the practices that Maryland has used to govern abortion since the Roe decision.

The law is scheduled to take effect July 1, but its starting date would be suspended during a referendum campaign.

If the Supreme Court should overturn the Roe decision before the November 1992 vote, a 1968 abortion law -- deemed unconstitutional since 1973 -- would be revived, at least until the balloting. The 1968 law would require abortions to be performed in hospitals and would allow the procedure only if the pregnancy resulted from rape, if the woman's health is in danger or if the fetus is deformed.

If the new law is defeated at referendum and the Supreme Court has overturned Roe, the 1968 law would go into effect.

Abortion-rights activists say 98 percent of the abortions now performed in Maryland would be illegal under the 1968 law.

The backers of the referendum must file 33,373 signatures of registered Maryland voters -- or 3 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election -- in June.

Mr. Maloney said the group "is going to start enlarging itself and bringing more people on board as we go along. Hopefully it will bring on board everybody who opposes abortion around the state."

Bebe Verdery, lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said abortion-rights groups would organize to defend the new law at the polls.

"We will be launching a massive campaign about the intent of this referendum," the lobbyist said.

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