Glendening drops effort on abortion He abandons pledge to seek expansion of public funding

Poorer women affected

Governor says he lacks votes but remains pro-choice

January 13, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

With his legislative agenda overflowing with tough issues, Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced yesterday that he will not attempt to expand public funding of abortions for poor women.

The decision is an about-face for the governor, who last year pledged to try to lift the state's restrictions on Medicaid-funded abortions in each General Assembly session until he left office.

Yesterday, he acknowledged that he did not have enough votes in the House of Delegates to make such a change during the 1996 General Assembly session.

Several lawmakers who support abortion rights backed the decision.

In a written statement, Mr. Glendening said, "I am absolutely committed to the pro-choice philosophy," But, he added, "We agree that with the many issues facing us this session, there is no sense in being distracted by a prolonged debate in pursuing a futile vote in the House."

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a leading abortion-rights advocate in the House, said Mr. Glendening made his decision after conferring with lawmakers.

"We looked at what issues were going to be before the legislature this year, both budgetary and other health issues, and felt this was the right political decision to make," said Mr. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat.

Currently, the state's Medicaid program will pay for an abortion only if the mother's life is in danger, her pregnancy is the result of reported rape or incest, her physical or mental health is seriously threatened, or the fetus suffers from a severe abnormality.

Under those rules, the state paid for nearly 3,000 abortions in 1993. If the restrictions were lifted, physicians would perform another 1,600 abortions annually, state officials estimate.

Abortion-rights advocates expressed disappointment with the governor's announcement yesterday, noting that Mr. Glendening had campaigned on the issue in 1994.

"Although the governor and legislators have a lot on their plate this session, low-income women must not be forgotten," said Kathy Nieberding-Ryan, legislative director of the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women. "This shouldn't be an issue of convenience."

In his second legislative session, Mr. Glendening is pursuing several ambitious initiatives that may consume considerable political capital.

He has pledged to spend $273 million to help build pro football stadiums in Baltimore and Prince George's County, but faces stiff opposition from legislators who say the state should spend money on vital services in tight fiscal times.

The governor also is pushing a sweeping gun control plan that would require handgun buyers to obtain a license and limit them to purchasing one handgun per month.

He also is calling for a seven-day waiting period and a criminal background check for purchases of guns from private citizens.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who supports abortion rights, said financial considerations influenced the governor's decision not to seek a change in the Medicaid language this year. With the federal budget unresolved, the state doesn't know how much money it will have to put into the overall Medicaid program, the Baltimore Democrat said.

Mr. Glendening lost his first Medicaid funding battle by five votes in the House of Delegates last year. On the eve of the vote last March, the governor said: "I think we will prevail this year, but make no mistake: We will push every single year until we #F prevail."

The governor has argued that the state's restrictions limit the access of some poor women to abortion -- in effect treating them differently from other Maryland women.

In an attempt to stem unwanted pregnancies, the governor said yesterday that he intends to earmark $500,000 in his budget for pregnancy prevention and family planning programs.

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