The Maryland Court of Appeals yesterday ruled that the state constitution forbids a proposed referendum on state-funded Medical abortions for indigent women.
An antiabortion group, Stop Taxes for Abortion, had collected 53,000 signatures on petitions in an attempt to force a November referendum on the abortion issue.
However, the state constitution forbids referendums on funds allocated to "maintain state governments" or state institutions.
The seven-member appeals bench affirmen a ruling by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Joseph M. Mathias that the legislature's allocation of state Medicaid funds for abortions fell under those restrictions. Yesterday's brief order will be followed by a written court opinion in the next few weeks.
George Yourishin, executive director of Stop Taxes for Abortion, said yesterday that the group now has "no place to turn." An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is not possible because no federal constitutional issues were involved in the appeal, according to the group's lawyer, James Kolb.
"I guess the only words I can use are 'frustration' and 'anger,'" Yourishin said. "For some reason abortion seems to be above such mundane procedures as people deciding whether or not to pay for it."
Yourishin said he was not sure whether the Stop Taxes for Abortion committee, established for the purpose of the referendum, would disband.
"We may break up, but that's irrelevant," he said."Our people will be back to work on the abortion issue in the election campaign."
The guidelines set forth for state Medicaid abortions in the state budget passed in April allow the operation to be performed if one doctor cerifies that the mother would be harmed by a continued pregnancy. The definition of "health" is left largely to the doctor's discretion.
The antiabortion group was hoping that voters would vote down state-funded abortions except in cases when the mother's life was in danger.
In May, however, Maryland Attorney General Francis B. Burch decided that a referendum on the abortion issues was not permissible under the state constitution, and Secretary of State Fred Wineland refused to accept the group's petitions.
The antiabortion campaigners lost an appeal in Circuit Court last month.
Yesterday, Kolb argued that antiabortion funds were not necessary for "maintaining the state government" because they were used for services that could be performed by the private sector.
But several judges sharply disagreed. "In 1978, isn't it an essential function of the state to provide medical care for the indigent?" asked Judge Irving H. Levine from the bench.
Levine pointed out that, under the antiabortion group's argument, almost every state program might be subject to a voter referendum.