'Gofers' play key role for both sides of abortion issue Volunteers bring contrasting views but show similar fervor

October 12, 1992|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

They certainly aren't in this for the glamour. Hour after hour, they stamp envelopes, fold letters, deliver mail. "Dog work," one called it.

But they keep coming back, day after day, to the groups leading the campaigns over the new abortion law up for referendum Nov. 3. Hundreds of volunteers -- men and women, young and old -- have been giving time to a cause.

In that way, they're alike. But their stories, the reasons why they care about the abortion issue, are all different.

At the offices of the Vote kNOw Coalition in Columbia, Tom Haney says he's done everything but sweep the floor. And he'll do that if someone asks him.

He's 68, a retired engineer, father of seven (an eighth child died of cancer at 14), and grandfather of "four and a half." Mr. Haney, who lives in Cookesville, has never before been involved in politics. But this issue drew him.

"I don't agree with the modern, post-Christian idea that life is not sacred, that it's utilitarian," he says. "We haven't addressed the real issue, that life begins at conception. To me, there is no reason for any abortion."

In church one summer Sunday, he found a flier seeking volunteers for the Vote kNOw Coalition, which is leading the campaign to defeat the new law at the polls. The law bans any government interference in a woman's abortion decision before the time in pregnancy when the fetus might be able to survive outside the womb.

"I thought, 'I'm running my mouth all the time. I better go do something about it,' " he says.

"Women have rights, but here there's another life involved."

While Mr. Haney was stuffing envelopes, Kim Ballantine was leaving frozen lasagna at home in Ellicott City for her husband and four children so that she could spend her weekly three hours working for Vote kNOw.

Never involved with any political campaign before, never active in anti-abortion activities, Mrs. Ballantine, 33, was moved to join Vote kNOw after she found abortion-rights literature in her pediatrician's office last summer.

She sat for a long talk with the physician -- about whether he would refer a teen-ager for an abortion without telling her parents, about the right to abortion, about the new law. When she couldn't agree with his views, she found another doctor and began volunteering.

"I'm a good mom," says Mrs. Ballantine, who has three children. "This law is taking away some of my rights as a parent. It's too broad, too liberal."

At Vote kNOw, she describes her work as "gofer, copy girl, envelope stuffer, folder extraordinaire."

"But this is a way for me to make a difference," she says. "This is my chance. It also sets a good example for my children: If you believe in something, do something about it."

Sitting at a computer nearby is Mary Albero, 54, who is always on the telephone. Early in the summer, after Ms. Albero retired from Volkswagen of America, a friend asked whether she would be interested in the Vote kNOw campaign. Ms. Albero ended up heading the entire volunteer operation. Now she is at the office 15 to 20 hours a week.

Ms. Albero, who lives in Crofton, calls volunteers and matches them up with work that needs doing. About 50 of them report to the Vote kNOw offices each week.

A divorced mother of five and the grandmother of seven, she has done other volunteer work for anti-abortion causes -- including counseling pregnant women and women who have had abortions -- but she had never before been a campaigner.

"Now I realize how important it is to get involved and make change in the political area," she says.

"The reason I got involved as actively as I have is because the bill itself just angers me as a woman. I look at it and I say this is a bill to protect the abortionist, not to protect women."

In North Baltimore, at the offices of Maryland for Choice, the volunteers also have strong feelings about their cause.

Guy Kelly, 74, says she has "dabbled in politics" most of her life, first as a moderate Republican and, since the election of Richard M. Nixon as president in 1968, as a Democrat. The mother of five, including three daughters, she says abortion is something she and her family have discussed often.

She knows some women have difficult lives. Two years ago, when an acquaintance's retarded 14-year-old foster child became pregnant, Mrs. Kelly paid for an abortion. "There was no way that child could raise a baby," she says.

"If the anti-choice people ever indicated in any way that they gave a damn about the children after they were born, they'd be more convincing," she says.

Widowed six months ago after 48 years of marriage, Mrs. Kelly spends three afternoons a week at Maryland for Choice. "Most of the other volunteers are quite young. And I'm finding it a delight to listen to them."

Sitting at a nearby table is Bob Lessick, 29, a doctoral student in biology at the Johns Hopkins University. Divorced with no children, he has never worked for a political candidate but believes that abortion must be kept legal.

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