The Supreme Court has spoken, but its decision reaffirming the core of Roe vs. Wade while allowing some restrictions on abortion is not the last word on this volatile issue. Certainly not in this important election year.
The Democratic presidential ticket that takes center stage in New York City this week has come down solidly for Roe, denouncing provisions that would uphold any restrictions on a woman's access to abortion early in a pregnancy.
Meanwhile, President Bush has expressed support for the latest court ruling, no doubt breathing a sigh of relief that the court did not hand the Democrats a hot issue for the campaign ahead. As it stands, Democrats will try to convince Americans that the court's new ruling guts Roe vs. Wade, while Republicans can look to polls that show many Americans are comfortable with restrictions on abortion upheld by the court.
Maryland can look forward to a truly democratic resolution of the issue. In November, voters must approve or reject a measure that essentially makes the provisions of Roe vs. Wade part of state law. Given the deeply held passions on abortion, that may not end the public debate. But once the votes are cast, it will be difficult for the losing side to claim it has public opinion in its favor.
With the stakes so high, every step takes on added importance. No wonder, then, that the wording of the question on the ballot has become an issue. After twice revising the description of the law in response to complaints from each side, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran has sent a third version to Secretary of State Winfield M. Kelly Jr., who must approve the language for inclusion on the ballot. Opponents are unhappy with the wording PTC because, they say, it fails to reflect shortcomings in the law. Supporters are not entirely happy, either. In our view, the attorney general's final version is both accurate and fair. Regardless, Mr. Kelly should come to a quick decision so any court challenges can be resolved in a timely manner.
In essence, the proposal on the ballot would continue the status quo in Maryland. Women would have access to abortions until the fetus has a reasonable chance of surviving on its own. Beyond that point, abortions would be legal only if the pregnancy threatened a woman's life or health, or if the fetus were deformed. A 1968 law, overridden by Roe vs. Wade in 1973, would be repealed.
Opponents of the law hope to convince Marylanders these provisions are radical and extreme, and that the measure would put the health of women at risk. However, like supporters of the law, we are convinced the best way to safeguard the health and safety of women is to keep abortion legal.