Abortion Debate Is Back

January 22, 1995

Give Gov. Parris N. Glendening credit: He's not afraid of a fight. He has guaranteed a nasty one by including in his budget provisions loosening restrictions on abortions for Medicaid recipients. But it's an important fight, one that is long overdue.

Only two years ago, Maryland came as close as possible to a democratic settlement of the abortion debate. Voters in November 1992 approved, 62-38 percent, a ballot measure ensuring women in Maryland would continue to have access to legal abortion, even if the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade. But that victory for abortion rights did not settle one of the more nettlesome questions -- whether abortions should be available only to women who can pay for them.

This newspaper has always criticized the hypocrisy of denying to poor women the same reproductive choices other women demand for themselves. We recognize that many people object to using tax dollars for services they regard as wrong, but no taxpayer agrees with every government expenditure. In fact, the current Medicaid restrictions cost Maryland taxpayers several million dollars each year. Without the restrictions -- requiring proof that giving birth would likely result in a woman's death, substantial risk of adverse effects on her physical health or medical evidence of likely serious effect on her mental health -- cost savings in the first year are estimated at $3.6 million because of reduced spending on infant care, maternity care and welfare payments.

The restrictions have another effect as well. It takes time for women to fulfill these requirements, often delaying the abortion beyond the first trimester when the procedure is safest. Later abortions are more likely to be performed in hospitals, at several times the cost of a clinic, and at a time when a fetus is much closer to viability.

Although he campaigned as a pro-choice candidate, Gov. William Donald Schaefer backed away from the Medicaid-funding issue, even though he was willing to penalize welfare recipients for having another child. Governor Glendening is right to tackle this issue head-on.

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