Abortion foes appeal to Glendening

January 18, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Abortion opponents appealed to Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening yesterday to abandon his campaign promise to lift current restrictions on state-funded abortions for poor women.

A coalition of anti-abortion groups released the results of a new public opinion poll showing that most Marylanders want the restrictions on abortions financed under the Medicaid program left in place or even tightened.

The abortion opponents claimed that the November election produced anti-abortion majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, and they predicted that Mr. Glendening is setting himself up for a political embarrassment if he tries to implement his promise.

"This would be a serious political mistake," said Richard Dowling, a spokesman for the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Glendening spokesman Charles F. Porcari said the governor-elect respects the poll respondents' opinion, but said he nevertheless intends to pursue his plan to relax the restrictions.

The issue from the standpoint of abortion-rights advocates, such as Mr. Glendening, is whether poor women who depend on the state's Medicaid program should have access to the same health services available to wealthier women.

Mr. Glendening "does not believe choice should be an issue of economics," Mr. Porcari said.

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a leader in the legislature's abortion-rights faction, disputed the assertion that the legislature has an anti-abortion majority. The Baltimore Democrat said she is certain her side retains majorities in both houses, although she conceded that the majority in the Senate is slim.

She said polls on the Medicaid abortion issue always show lower support than for abortion rights in general because poll respondents believe relaxing Medicaid restrictions will raise the cost to taxpayers.

She insisted, however, that the reverse is true. By the time a woman goes through the steps necessary to have a Medicaid-funded abortion approved, she often is in her second trimester, a time where the procedure is both more dangerous and "five times" more expensive, Ms. McIntosh said.

For recipients who carry their babies to term, Medicaid covers the cost of the birth and any subsequent care, she said.

The abortion opponents -- which included representatives of the Catholic Conference, the Family Protection Lobby, Concerned Women of America, Maryland Right to Life and Pastors for Life -- commissioned Mason-Dixon Political Media Research of Columbia to conduct a poll on the abortion issue.

The question asked of 809 registered voters Jan. 6-8 was whether they believed that the current restrictions on Medicaid-funded abortions should be tightened, eliminated or left as they are.

Medicaid funds currently may be used for abortions in cases of rape or incest or if the mother's life is in danger. The state also pays for abortions if a woman can demonstrate that continuing the pregnancy would seriously threaten her mental or physical health.

The poll reported that 38 percent of those surveyed believe restrictions should be stricter; 24 percent believe the restrictions should remain as they are; and 29 percent would permit poor women to receive state-funded abortions for any reason.

By tallying the responses to the first two options, the abortion opponents concluded that 62 percent of Marylanders either want the restrictions on Medicaid-funded abortions tightened or left unchanged.

But Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat who has worked to expand abortion rights, said the poll was flawed because the third option was so open-ended -- asking respondents if they wanted to permit poor women to receive state-funded abortions "for any reason."

"When you use 'for any reason,' you're going to get a distorted result," he said.

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