Maryland's secretary of state has given quick official approval to the wording of the abortion question set for the November ballot -- with a suggestion that copies of the entire bill be available at the polls.
"This law has many components that are not easily summarized in a 100-word ballot title that is required by law," Secretary of State Winfield M. Kelly Jr. said in a statement. "By placing copies of the law at the polling places, every voter will have the opportunity to specifically refer to the legislation they will vote upon."
In November, Marylanders will vote on a new abortion-rights law that would keep most abortions legal here no matter what the Supreme Court decides in the future.
State officials, aware of the intensity of the debate over the issue, approached the writing of the referendum question delicately. Abortion opponents and abortion-rights backers watched anxiously the last six weeks as the attorney general drafted three successive summaries of the law, finally sending "legally sufficient" language to Mr. Kelly last week.
The secretary of state, who has final authority over what appears on the ballot, decided to certify the recommendation. "As a non-lawyer, it is not for me to judge what has clearly become a legal question," he said.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mr. Kelly said yesterday that they are braced for a court challenge. They certified the ballot question quickly to allow time for any legal fight to be settled before Aug. 17, the date by which the state elections board needs the final wording.
Mr. Schaefer said he told Mr. Kelly, "Put it out. Anyone who wants to file suit, get it over with, and if the courts change it, fine." But activists on both sides of the issue did not sound eager yesterday to go to court.
Abortion-rights campaigners said they have no plans to sue. And spokesmen for the Vote kNOw Coalition and Maryland Right to Life said they will consult with attorneys before ruling a suit out entirely.
Kip Gannett, of the Bowie-based Committee Against Radical Abortion Laws, said he found fault with some parts of the ballot language, "but I don't know if that's deserving of actually going to court or not. Do [lawyers] think we have the real possibility of getting better language in there, or should we just move on?"
At the Vote kNOw Coalition, Frederica Mathewes-Green said her group still finds the ballot language "appalling, unfair." But the coalition is less inclined to go to court, she said, since Mr. Kelly recommended having the text available for voters.