With the resounding approval of Question 6 yesterday, Maryland has come as close as possible to reaching a democratic resolution of one of the most contentious issues facing this country. Like most Americans, Marylanders have qualms about abortion; ending a pregnancy is not a decision to be made lightly or indiscriminately.
But worse than abortion is the tragedy that invariably occurs when abortion is made a crime. As supporters of Question 6 reminded voters in the run-up to election day, this is one decision we don't need the government to make for us.
While ensuring that abortion will remain legal in the early stages of pregnancy, the law approved yesterday allows the state to impose severe restrictions on abortion as the fetus develops. It also gives the state government an enforceable provision for notifying the parents of a minor who seeks an abortion and grants the state health department power to regulate abortion clinics.
Despite a campaign by the Vote kNOw Coalition to sow confusion on many aspects of the law, voters saw the central issue clearly: whether abortion would continue to be accessible in Maryland even if the Supreme Court were to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973.
Even as voters here were registering their strong support of Maryland's new abortion law, the national picture for abortion rights brightened considerably. On the same day, a federal appeals court invalidated the Bush administration's ban on abortion counseling at federally financed family planning clinics. With the election of a Democratic president strongly committed to abortion rights, it is safe to assume that the "gag rule" will not resurface in the next four years.
Look for the abortion litmus test to disappear for other issues as well, from the federal ban on research using fetal tissue to the Reagan-Bush policy of withholding U.S. funding for international family planning efforts such as the United Nations Population Fund.
None of this means that this country has seen the end of abortion as a divisive issue. Far from it. But for Maryland, the issue has been put to a vote and the majority has spoken: decisions about abortion belong not to the state, but to the women who must live with the consequences.