Abortion issue moves to political center stage Governor's race: Sauerbrey's previous anti-abortion statements become prime target for Glendening.

September 20, 1998

UNTIL last Tuesday's primary election, the volatile abortion issue had remained quietly on Maryland's political shelf. But with two pro-choice senators going down to defeat, and a third narrowly avoiding that fate, abortion rights -- and limitations -- could become a defining issue in this year's campaign for governor.

Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening was quick to note that the loss of moderate Republican Senators F. Vernon Boozer of Baltimore County and John W. Derr of Frederick County could put advocates of abortion rights on the defensive if his opponent, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, is elected governor.

Ms. Sauerbrey has a long legislative record of backing curbs on abortions. This year, though, she has deflected criticism by proclaiming that she will not change Maryland's statute, which supports abortion rights.

"I'm pro-life," she says, but "as governor I will uphold the law" on allowing women to choose -- a law approved in a 1988 referendum by a lopsided margin of 423,000 votes.

But then she outlines ways she would, in fact, narrow that abortion law. She says she supports a ban on "partial-birth" abortions -- a vague term that anti-abortion senators used last year to try pass a broader ban on abortions. She wants to "clarify" the existing law so it has tougher parental-consent provisions. And she wants to greatly restrict Medicaid abortions for poor women.

As the president of Maryland Right to Life -- which supports Ms. Sauerbrey -- put it, "she really hasn't changed" her views.

When Maryland voters decide which candidate they prefer for governor, they need to look beyond the gloss of "feel-good" television commercials to examine the underlying positions of the two nominees for this state's highest office.

Mr. Glendening has consistently supported abortion rights. Ms. Sauerbrey -- until this campaign -- had been just as consistently opposed. Each candidate feels sincerely that theirs is the correct moral and ethical position.

But let's not present voters with a false impression: A Sauerbrey governorship would mean executive-branch support to curb abortions; a second Glendening administration would mean continued support for the choice movement -- even if the legislature has an anti-abortion majority.

Voters must decide in which direction they want their top elected leader to go. They have two very clear options before them.

Pub Date: 9/20/98

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