Wrong Choice This Time

September 03, 1992

Unfortunately and unwisely, the Maryland League of Women Voters has put its nonpartisan reputation on the line by joining Democrats in a demonstration in favor of abortion rights. The abortion issue has become so loaded with political baggage that organizations like the league, which renounce partisan ties, must tread with extreme care. The national parties have taken diametrically opposite stands on abortion, so any activity on either side has political implications. To join hands with partisans at a demonstration, whether or not political signs are brandished, unavoidably diminishes the league's credibility as an honest broker on other issues.

We say this more in sadness than in anger. This newspaper agrees with the league's stand on abortion. That is not at issue. We also list ourselves among the league's admirers for its nonpartisan, civic-minded political activities. We have joined with it in past years in publishing voter guides that its members prepared. We have welcomed its sponsorship of candidate forums and debates. But we fear these valuable contributions to the political process are endangered by the league's lack of sensitivity in this instance.

This is not to say the league should duck controversial issues. Quite the contrary. Nor does it mean the league should abandon its long-standing pro-choice position. It does mean that the league needs to be more conscious that it is walking through a political mine field. Emotions run high on this issue. It is not one where shades of gray are readily perceived. There is a hard-fought referendum on the ballot here in November, which makes it all the more important for an organization like the Maryland league, with its cherished reputation for nonpartisanship, to take great care.

Perceptions are not realities, but in politics it is often hard to tell the difference. By participating with political partisans in a pro-choice rally, and by failing to accept the validity of the criticism afterward, the league has tarnished its image of nonpartisanship. That is a loss not just for the league but for all of us.

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