Abortion rights group supports Boozer, Lawlah in primaries Backers of NARAL cause face serious challenges

September 09, 1998|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Two state senators in tough primary races were endorsed yesterday by a leading abortion-rights group that is worried about attempts to chip away at Maryland's abortion law.

Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Baltimore County Republican, and Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah, a Prince George's Democrat, were singled out as holders of critical Senate votes by the political action committee of the Maryland chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

Both veteran lawmakers have consistently opposed anti-abortion legislation in the General Assembly, including efforts in recent years to ban a controversial procedure known as "partial birth abortion." Both face serious challenges in the Sept. 15 primary.

Traci Siegel, the PAC's executive director, called victories by Boozer and Lawlah key to "maintaining the slim pro-choice majority we currently hold in the state Senate."

"We think this is where we can have the biggest impact," Siegel said at a news conference in Annapolis. She said NARAL would work to draw abortion-rights advocates to the polls.

Anti-abortion activists agreed that the stakes are high. Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Carroll County Republican who submitted legislation to ban the "partial-birth" procedure last spring, noted that his proposal failed because of a few moderate swing votes among the 47 senators. "I think the majority in the Senate that's pro-choice is very slim," Haines said, adding that he would introduce a similar measure next year.

Ray Szyperski, president of the board of Pro-Life Maryland, said the organization has not "targeted any specific areas yet, but we're working on all 47 [legislative] districts."

Boozer, a moderate Republican who is the Senate minority leader, is described as liberal by his opponent. Dr. Andrew Harris, an obstetric anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has targeted Boozer's votes on such volatile issues as abortion, physician-assisted suicide, gay marriages and a needle-exchange program.

"I can assure you that on Sept. 15, the anti-choice extremists are going to be at the polls," Boozer said after winning the NARAL endorsement. "If the pro-choice majority doesn't do the same, I won't be here."

Harris, who supports a ban on "partial birth abortions," said, "I'm not surprised by that endorsement."

Lawlah is being challenged by Del. C. Anthony Muse, a Democrat from her district in Prince George's County. Lawlah and the NARAL activists said Muse has missed many of the important votes on abortion legislation in the House of Delegates. Muse did not return phone calls yesterday.

Abortion has not often surfaced as an issue since the General Assembly enacted sweeping legislation guaranteeing a woman's right to abortion in 1991. Maryland voters upheld the measure at the polls in 1992.

However, anti-abortion forces have been trying to restrict the "partial birth" procedure, during which a fetus is partly delivered and then its skull is collapsed to enable the removal of the fetus. No reliable statistics are available on how often doctors perform the procedure. Congress has twice passed bills prohibiting it, but they have been vetoed by President Clinton.

Pub Date: 9/09/98

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