ANNAPOLIS -- The struggle over the wording of the abortion question on the November ballot escalated yesterday as abortion opponents went to court in a bid to have the referendum language changed.
In a suit filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, the Vote kNOw Coalition alleges that the ballot question on Maryland's new abortion-rights statute "miscasts and misrepresents the true nature and purpose of the referred law" and "uses vague, ambiguous and obtuse generalizations."
The coalition, which is campaigning to defeat the law, wants the court to order a new description of the statute be written and put on the ballot. Joseph A. Schwartz III, the Vote kNOw lawyer, said he hopes for a speedy Circuit Court hearing to allow time for an appeal to Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals, and a ruling by the end of August.
Mr. Schwartz said the words on the ballot must "fairly, concisely and intelligently describe, in understandable language" the law. The abortion opponents also want the ballot language to list the law's provisions in the order in which they appear in the statute, beginning with a clause concerning parental notice when minors seek abortions.
The attorney general was expecting a suit. Jack Schwartz, chief counsel for opinions in the attorney general's office and no relation to Joseph Schwartz, said lawyers there concluded the paragraph "we sent to the secretary of state is fair and accurate. We would defend it."
Supporters of the abortion-rights law yesterday shrugged off news of the suit, saying they've turned from debating the ballot language to campaigning for the new statute.
"It seems like whenever there's a compromise, they want to pick up their marbles and go home," Stacie Spector, head of Maryland for Choice, said of the abortion opponents. "We're not 100 percent satisfied with the language either. Each side would have liked to have written the language itself. But we couldn't do that. Now's the time to take the language and go off to educate our voters."
The law, passed by the legislature in 1991 and petitioned to referendum by abortion opponents, is designed to keep most abortions in Maryland legal.
WORDING OF LAW
Revises Maryland's abortion law to prohibit state interference with woman's abortion decision before fetus is viable, or, under certain conditions, at any time and to provide certain exceptions to the requirement that a physician notify an unmarried minor's parent or guardian prior to minor's abortion; repeals pre-abortion information requirements about abortion alternatives.
Repeals some, and clarifies other, provisions related to abortion referral.
Requires that abortions be performed by licensed physicians.
Provides good-faith immunity under certain conditions to physicians performing abortions.
Authorizes state to adopt abortion regulations.
Repeals certain penalty and disciplinary provisions related to the performance of abortions.