ANNAPOLIS, DEC. 1 -- Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, acknowledging that he is going back on a campaign pledge, said today that he will not ask the state legislature for more money to help poor women obtain abortions.
The governor said his decision to stick with the current state policy is a result of a change in his opinion on the divisive issue.
He is now convinced, he said, that when abortions are needed to protect the health of the mother and in cases such as rape and incest, funding is available under existing guidelines.
Instead of increasing abortion funding, Schaefer said, he plans to put more money in the budget to help poor women who want to bear children and put them up for adoption. Also, he hopes to revise state laws to make it easier to adopt children.
Schaefer said that his decision "is going to be a very heavy disappointment to the people who are in favor of more lenient language" and that it will not satisfy abortion opponents.
Del. Patricia Sher (D-Montgomery), one of the leaders of the abortion funding forces in the legislature, said she was disappointed with the governor's decision.
She said she and her supporters have to decide whether to try to increase funding for abortions for poor women without the governor's support.
Richard Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said he was delighted with Schaefer's announcement.
"The governor's change of heart is commendable in our view, and it took great courage to make," he said.
The decision was revealed by Schaefer during a discussion with reporters as he was entering the State House. It came shortly after abortion opponents delivered petitions to the governor that they said contained more than 80,000 signatures of Marylanders who are opposed to using state funds for Medicaid abortions.
The state has been spending about $2 million a year to pay for abortions for about 4,000 women under the Medicaid program.
Schaefer's decision to stick with the current restrictions in the budget may defuse a highly contested issue that has the potential to tie up the legislature.
The current restrictions have been in effect since the 1981 budget was adopted, and there has not been a fight on the issue since 1985, Steven Rivelis of Marylanders for the Right to Choose said today.
Rivelis declined to comment on the governor's decision until he heard it directly from Schaefer or a member of his staff.
He said it may be possible to move ahead without the governor's support despite threats of a filibuster by Senate abortion opponents.
Rivelis said it would be possible to override a filibuster, but "it's significantly more difficult to overcome a filibuster without the governor's support or the leadership support."
Schaefer would not discuss details of his plans concerning adoption changes and said he doesn't know how much money might be needed to help women who want to give birth instead of having an abortion.