Republican gubernatorial nominee Robert A. Pascal, who has avoided the issue throughout the campaign, said today he believes that a woman who wants an abortion has the right to have one.

"This is a very tough issue for me, it's one I've truly agonized over," said Pascal, whose wife Nancy is ardently opposed to abortion. "If someone I knew came to me and said they wanted an abortion I would do everything in my power to talk them out of it. I would try to get them counseling, I would tell them about adoption procedures if they didn't want to have the baby, I would do everything I could to talk her out of it.

"But, if in the end she said she still wanted an abortion, I would agonize over it, I would say a prayer and then I would say I think she has to do what she has to do. It's up to her in the end."

Pascal has said throughout the campaign that he supports Medicaid funding for abortions, but recently has also said that if he found the language in the current law to have loopholes--specifically involving the question of the "mental health," of the mother--he might seek legislation to narrow the law.

But two weeks ago at a press conference when reporters tried to pin him down on whether he was pro-choice Pascal said the issue was a federal one and he did not have to answer the question.

Today he said, "If my belief that the final decision rests with the woman after you have done everything in your power to convince her not to do it makes me pro-choice, then I'm pro choice. I guess the difference between Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes and me is that he wants to tell everyone he's pro-choice. I, frankly, would rather not talk about it at all. It's a very difficult issue for me."