Life, Contraception and Question 6

October 18, 1992

New studies show that RU-486, the French abortion pill, i also effective as a morning-after pill. That raises the stakes for opponents of legalized abortion who are committed to keeping the drug out of this country. It also pushes the larger abortion debate ever closer to a debate about contraception, a subject most Americans considered settled long ago. Marylanders should watch these developments as they ponder Question 6, the abortion law that appears on the November ballot.

Some background: RU-486 works not by preventing the fertilization of an egg, but rather by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting itself within the uterus so that a pregnancy can develop. Many experts on human reproduction -- including the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as many medical ethicists -- argue that pregnancy begins not with fertilization, but with the crucial step of implantation a few days later.

Yet many of those who seek to outlaw abortion have seized on the rallying cry that "life begins at conception," and they define conception as fertilization. That necessarily puts them in opposition to some widely accepted methods of birth control, such as the IUD and some forms of the Pill, as well as the use of RU-486 as a morning-after pill. It also illustrates how a position that regards a fertilized egg as a person with full legal rights is more extreme than most Americans are willing to accept.

In 1991, when the General Assembly passed the legislation that became Question 6, people on both sides of the abortion issue expected the measure to go to the voters as a ballot question. The voters themselves could then decide an issue that has tied up the legislature for years. But instead of a campaign on the central issue -- whether abortion early in pregnancy should remain legal and accessible in Maryland even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade -- voters have instead been bombarded with scare tactics and charges that loopholes make the law an extreme measure that tilts women toward abortions.

That charge reflects our basic difference with those who seek to outlaw abortion. They assume that women -- and their physicians -- harbor a casual, even hostile attitude toward pregnancy and cannot be trusted to take into account all the moral issues raised by abortion, as well as by contraception and pregnancy.

We do not believe that women and physicians take these matters lightly. We believe they -- not the government -- are the ones to trust with these decisions. That's why we urge a vote FOR Question 6 on Nov. 3.

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