Clinton, decisively GOP's 12-year grip on White House broken

Maryland abortion-rights law passes easily Backers jubilant as voters say yes on Question 6

November 04, 1992|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

Maryland voters resoundingly approved a new abortion-rights law yesterday, ending an emotional three-year battle over the measure.

With most returns counted, the law was winning with more than 60 percent of the vote, far more than any public opinion polls -- or leaders in either camp -- had predicted. Voters approved the measure (Question 6 on the ballot) in all regions of the state except Western Maryland.

Leaders of Maryland for Choice, who worried that voters had been confused about the law's impact, were jubilant last night.

Maura Keefe, a Maryland for Choice spokeswoman, called the vote "a victory for Maryland voters. They took the time to educate themselves and made the right choice."

Despite the outcome, the law's opponents, led by the Vote kNOw Coalition, said they would not give up their efforts.

Ellen Curro, executive director of Vote kNOw, said, "It is a shame that the momentum we needed . . . that's not here right now." The law's opponents, she added, would continue to work to amend the measure. "There are bad parts to this law. We are hoping the legislature would go back and work on parts of the bill that are unacceptable."

The law, the only abortion-rights measure on the ballot in the country this year, is intended to keep most abortions legal in Maryland even should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn its landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling.

The passage of Question 6 means that Maryland has an enforceable abortion law for the first time since 1973. That year, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Roe case, found a constitutional right to an abortion -- and effectively voided Maryland's restrictive 1968 abortion law.

The old law, unconstitutional but still on the books until its repeal yesterday, allowed abortion only in hospitals after approval by a review board and only if the woman reported she had been raped, her life or health was at risk or the fetus was deformed.

The new law takes effect in 30 days.

It allows abortion without government restriction until the time in pregnancy when the fetus might be able to survive outside the womb. Later abortions would be allowed to protect a woman's life or health or if the fetus is deformed.

The new law also requires doctors to tell a parent in many cases before a minor has an abortion.

Had voters rejected the law on the ballot yesterday and the Supreme Court in a future decision overturned Roe, the 1968 law would again have been enforced -- making most abortions here illegal.

The vote ended a three-year political fight.

Passed by the legislature in 1991, the law had been blocked from taking effect when abortion opponents petitioned it to referendum on this year's ballot.

In 1990, an anti-abortion filibuster had blocked its passage.

The contentious referendum campaign closed in a flurry of politicking and commercials.

Thousands of volunteers across the state went door-to-door. Churchgoers found political flyers in their weekly bulletins. Campaigners stood on street corners waving placards.

Despite the abortion-rights activists' concerns about voter confusion, Marylanders at the polls yesterday said they had little difficulty understanding the issue.

Voting yesterday in Middle River, Edmund F. Rosenberger, 71, a retired Democrat, said he voted for Question 6 because "that's a very personal choice for a woman. I just read about it in the paper, and did what I thought."

In North Baltimore, Ed DeYoung, 38, pastor at Grace Fellowship Church, said he voted no because "Question 6 was an important issue for me. It's bad legislation."

And there were, of course, voters simply weary of the fight.

In Glen Burnie, Albert Seymour, 59, said he voted for Question 6, mainly in the hope that the issue would go away.

Polls taken before the campaign began consistently showed that Marylanders favor keeping abortion widely available.

With those polls in mind, the Vote kNOw Coalition did not spend time trying to change voters' minds on the issue of abortion.

Instead of using the traditional anti-abortion slogans about the rights of the unborn, Vote kNOw appealed to voters with a women's-rights message, saying the new law would not adequately protect women's safety. Vote kNOw said the debate in this campaign was not about the issue of abortion but about "a bad law."

In the last days of the campaign, Maryland for Choice began sharpening its message, trying to etch into voters' minds that a vote for the law was "the pro-choice position" and that freedom to choose an abortion without restrictions was at stake.

Yesterday's vote settles the debate over Maryland's law, but no one believes the contentious issue of abortion has been settled forever.

"This is not going to end it," said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

"Realistically, another bill could be put in next year. It's an issue with a life of its own."

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