A Catholic group in Gaithersburg canceled a breakfast that was to have featured Maryland Del. Constance A. Morella, a liberal Republican who is running for Congress, after opponents of state-funded abortions threatened to picket the event, a church spokeswoman said yesterday.
Sally Scotton, a member of the women's guild of St. John Neuman Catholic Church, said her group decided to postpone indefinitely its annual communion breakfast after she received several telephone protests about Morella, who has supported state funding of abortions for indigent women while a member of the House of Delegates from Bethesda.
Morella, a Catholic who was to be the speaker at the church breakfast tomorrow, is seeking the Republican nomination for Maryland's 8th Congressional District seat. Her opponent in the party's primary election is retired Foreign Service officer William Shepard, who said yesterday that he supports "a pro-life" position.
Some of the persons who called Scotton identified themselves as members of a local antiabortion group and threatened to picket the church's early morning mass and later the breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Gaithersburg, Scotton said.
"They were trying to crucify her [Morella], which I think is so outrageous," Scotton said. "We decided the Christian thing to do was to call it off. I do not want to provide a forum for these people."
Morella, who adamantly defended her record, said, "It's too bad that such a small minority want to make a cause celebre of just one issue, with no ifs, ands or buts."
Kathleen Sweet, executive director of the Rockville-based Right to Life of Maryland Inc., said her group did not officially sponsor the effort to block the breakfast, but did provide information about Morella's voting record to several parishioners from St. John.
Sweet, noting that Morella is an active member of another Catholic church in Montgomery County, said: "In the eyes of the Catholic Church, abortion is a grave moral sin. We're naturally pleased that she's not addressing this particular group."
Maryland is one of eight states that provides government funds for abortions -- about $2 million annually -- and the issue has been a particularly divisive one in the General Assembly in recent years. The Maryland funds are available only for poor women who provide medical evidence that giving birth would endanger their health, Morella said.
Morella, an extremely popular politician in her own heavily Democratic legislative district, has voted "100 percent" for state funding for abortion during her two terms in the legislature, Sweet said.
Scotton said the guild was "very up front with people and our pastor about Connie's voting for pro-choice bills. None of us saw any red flags."