Md. has lone ballot in Nov. on abortion rights

September 20, 1992|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Maryland voters appear likely to be the onl ones in the nation who will cast ballots directly on abortion rights in November, now that efforts to raise the question elsewhere have faltered.

In a brief order Friday, an Arizona judge ruled that a strongly anti-abortion measure could not remain on the ballot there. That decision is expected to be tested in a swift -- and long-shot -- NTC appeal to the state supreme court, with a final ruling coming as early as this week.

Last month, in Oklahoma, another proposal to impose an almost complete ban on abortion was erased from the ballot by the state supreme court there.

Those states, along with Maryland, were the only ones in which anti-abortion forces had succeeded in putting a suggested change in state abortion laws on the ballot. Efforts had been made in other states to raise the issue before voters, but those campaigns fell short.

There was a major difference among the three proposals that had made it to the ballot: if the Maryland measure is approved by voters Nov. 3, abortions would be available in the state with very few restrictions; in Arizona and Oklahoma, however, voter approval would have meant that far-reaching limits on abortions would have been written into state law.

Arizona's proposed measure, the one just vetoed by a Phoenix judge, had gone the furthest: it would forbid any abortion -- at any stage of pregnancy -- unless an abortion were necessary to save the life of the woman. Abortions would be allowed in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest only if the state legislature were to pass a separate law to assure that protection.

Although most abortions would have been made a crime by that measure, no woman could be prosecuted for obtaining an illegal abortion. Thus, the law was aimed at clinics, hospitals and doctors.

A second part of the Arizona proposal would have barred any use of state funds to pay for abortions, unless the pregnancy threatened the woman's life. The legislature would have been given no power to provide such funding.

That measure was challenged by the state's League of Women Voters, on a single issue of state law: the proposal's legality under a clause in the Arizona Constitution that allows ballot measures only if they deal with one issue.

On Friday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Stover ruled that the measure raised two separate questions -- the abortion ban, and the funding ban -- and thus could not appear on the ballot.

Supporters of the measure said they would appeal immediately to the state's highest court.

The Oklahoma measure voided by that state's supreme court in early August was ruled out as being "diametrically opposed" to the constitutional right to abortion that women still have under the U.S. Supreme Court's latest ruling June 29.

Under the now-stricken Oklahoma proposal, abortions would have been allowed to save the life of the woman, to avert a "grave" medical threat, to avoid the birth of a child with a "grave" defect, or to end a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.

All three of the proposed state measures have been fought over in court.

In Maryland, anti-abortion forces tried to get the ballot language changed to enhance their chances of persuading voters to repeal a new state abortion-rights law.

The new state law, in essence, would make abortion as fully available as it has been under the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade -- a decision only partly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in June.

In Oklahoma, under a special procedure, the ballot measure's validity was tested by those who had proposed it -- and they lost. In Arizona, the challenge was based on the claim that voters' rights were violated by the failure to confine the measure to a single issue.

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