Republican Robert A. Pascal, dogged throughout his faltering campaign for governor by his fuzzy position on abortion, said in a debate with Democratic Gov. Harry Hughes that he would tighten the provision in Maryland law that permits most state-funded abortions.
In their sharpest exchange of the campaign, Pascal said he would push for legislation that would eliminate some and possibly all instances where the state would pay for medicaid abortions deemed necessary for the mental health of the mother.
Such a change would eliminate 75 percent or more of medicaid abortions, according to some sources.
Pascal tried to turn the controversial subject on his opponent, pointing his finger at Hughes and asking whether a teen-ager should be required to get parental consent before having an abortion.
Hughes said there were circumstances where he would permit a teen-ager to obtain an abortion without notification of her parents. Pascal said that under no circumstances would he support such an abortion.
The exchange came at a luncheon Friday at The Washington Post, during which Pascal's wife, Nancy, an avid foe of all abortions, repeatedly urged her husband to bring up the subject so he could clarify his stance.
The two men sat across from one another at the luncheon with Post reporters and editors. Hughes smoked through much of the informal, two-hour session while Pascal ignored the food, sipped coffee and clung to a black notebook full of issue papers.
[A transcript of the debate will appear in next Wednesday's Maryland Weekly section of The Post.]
Both men were consistent with their campaign styles: Pascal spoke in strident tones, often leaning across the table and jabbing toward Hughes to make his points; Hughes spoke softly and deliberately except for a couple of occasions when he appeared annoyed by Pascal's comments and his voice rose.
Pascal criticized Hughes for his economic development program, saying he has not done enough for small businesses and minorities. Hughes replied that as Anne Arundel County executive, Pascal offered no program for minority businesses while he, as state secretary of transportation, instituted what has become the model program for minority business programs in the state.
Pascal repeated his proposal that the state establish a $100 million insurance fund to help small businesses secure loans. Hughes, who appeared miffed several times when Pascal suggested programs that would cost money to solve other state problems jumped in and said, "Every problem you want to throw money at . . . . You say build more prisons, build more schools. If you do all those things you run the risk of jepoardizing the state's triple A bond rating." He also said the state currently has a program to help small businesses.
Both men said they had no problem with the federal government transferring programs back to the states, but wondered if President Reagan's plans could be carried out without having state programs suffer.
"There's no need to raise taxes or to cut these programs if you do some of the things we've done in our county," Pascal said.
"Let me respond to that with facts rather than political rhetoric," Hughes bristled. "We already have a freeze on state jobs and we abolished 900 positions that were called for in the Constitution."
The two men also argued over the state's job retraining program, Hughes saying it was a success, Pascal saying Hughes had allowed it to lie dormant until election time.
Pascal pointed out that one of the chief jobs involved in retraining workers had been vacant for 17 months.
"We did have some problems with reorganization then," Hughes conceded, "but there were programs that were ongoing during that time. It's not like nothing was happening."
"But those were programs started before you took office," Pascal answered. "That's true," Hughes said.
"Well then, that's one thing you can't go around patting yourself on the back for," Pascal said.
"I'm not patting myself on the back," Hughes said. "I'm just saying there were programs going on."
But the main point of contention between the two men, as it has been since they were nominated by their parties six weeks ago, was crime.
Pascal said policies set by Hughes' first secretary of corrections, Gordon Kamka, led to "the highest crime rate in this state's history." Hughes' contention that crime is down the last 18 months is more than negated by increases in crime during his first 30 months in office, Pascal said.
Hughes responded by pointing to programs that had been instituted in his administration, including the largest prison-building program in state history, and noting that escapes were down 63 percent. "We're making great progress on crime," Hughes said.
Pascal repeatedly asked Hughes if he thought Kamka's programs, which included a high rate of early release and paroles, had increased the crime rate.
After a long Hughes answer, Pascal said, "Is that a yes or a no, Harry? Did Gordon Kamka's policies, which he shoved down our throats, a policy which you adhered to, a man you backed, a man you didn't even fire -- he resigned -- are you saying that policy did not contribute to the crime problem?"
"I'm not going to say that it did." Hughes answered.
"Now that's where Mr. Hughes and I differ," Pascal said.
"We differ on a lot of things Bob," Hughes said, interrupting.
"No doubt about that," Pascal said. "But you just made statement that if somebody is incarcerated for the entire length of his sentence he comes out worse then when he went in."
"Who said that?" Hughes snapped.
"You said it just now," Pascal said. "Didn't he say that?"
"That's your problem Bob. You never hear what I'm saying."
At the end, Pascal asked Hughes if he would debate him on Washington television. "I think I've met my obligation," Hughes said. "We've debated four times prior to today and I have a lot of campaigning to do." Asked if that was a final, definitive no, Hughes answered, "Yes."