Voters reaffirm stand favoring abortion choice

November 05, 1992|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

All the campaigning, all the commercials, all the rallies -- none of it apparently swayed Marylanders. At the polls, voters Tuesday decisively approved an abortion-rights law, reflecting their consistent belief that abortion should remain a private issue.

The statute's supporters, who said that the right to abortion was at stake, watched anxiously as the opposition dissected the measure and declared it a bad law. The strategy, the supporters feared, would distract voters from the abortion-rights cause or leave them hopelessly confused.

But when the votes were counted, Marylanders had approved 61-39 a measure that will keep most abortions legal even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling.

The result should not have been surprising, says Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

"Abortion's been around a long time and discussed a lot," he said. "It's not some new issue that's just coming aboard, like the invasion of Kuwait, which people never thought about before. It's still the same old issue, and people know their position on it."

Tuesday's results reflect polls that consistently show Marylanders approve abortion rights. A Sun Poll taken last February showed 57 percent of voters would support a law that allowed abortion without government interference until the time in pregnancy when the fetus might survive outside the womb.

The Vote kNOw Coalition, organized to fight the new abortion-rights law, had spent the campaign trying to convince voters that the measure was too flawed to protect women's health and safety. But the focus on the fine points of the law seemed to matter little to voters, observers said yesterday.

"They voted their position on abortion, which is typically 60-40 in this state," said Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Opinion Research in Columbia.

Voters apparently sorted through the ads critical of the law, then cast ballots based on their views of abortion in general.

Voting Tuesday in Glen Burnie, Albert Seymour, 59, said he watched the commercials that alleged that the law would allow for-profit abortion-referral services. "I didn't fall for it," Mr. Seymour said. "I don't believe it."

And in Middle River, Evelyn Staigerwald, 78, a Wilson Point Democrat who is retired, voted for the abortion law. "I don't even think it should be a political issue."

The law was supported by voters in every region of the state except Western Maryland.

In Bethesda, Frieda Arauco, 59, voted for the new law even though her priest had counseled against it. "It's important that people have the possibility available to them," she said. "My religion is against it, but people should have the right. . . . It should have nothing to do with government."

Del. Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Baltimore County, a co-sponsor of the law, says he thinks that the critical advertising eventually had a backlash.

"Sometimes, when people get so totally confused, people don't believe what they see in advertising. They know there's an agenda behind it. They discard it and go back to what the basic issue is."

At the polls Tuesday, Mr. LaMotte noticed, voters were not stopping to pick up literature from either side in the abortion campaign.

"They knew. They went right in. It was a private decision. People weren't going to tell you what they were going to do, but they were sure about how they were going to vote," he said.

If the voters were skeptical about some of the campaign commercials, others were helpful, Mr. Coker says. In the last weeks of the campaign, Maryland for Choice abandoned a gentle strategy of support for the law and began sharpening the message.

"A vote for Question 6," the ads relentlessly told viewers, is "the pro-choice position."

That simple commercial, Mr. Coker said, didn't change anyone's mind on the issue, but told the law's supporters exactly how to vote.

"They said, 'We're taking your hand, we're putting it on the lever and we're showing you what to do,' " Mr. Coker said. "They educated the voters, and you got a 60-40 split."

Mr. Coker said Vote kNOw ran exactly the campaign it had to run. But the strategy could not counter the large proportion of voters who want to keep government from interfering in the abortion decision, he said.

Stacie Spector, Maryland for Choice's campaign manager, said that the voters knew exactly what they wanted to do. They "were able to tell the state one more time we've got a pro-choice majority, and let's take this out of the political arena."

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