ANNAPOLIS, DEC. 2 -- Women's groups and others who want Maryland to provide more help for poor women seeking abortions said today they were outraged at Gov. William Donald Schaefer's announcement that he had reversed his campaign pledge to help them.
"We are, of course, dismayed," said Lois Schilf, president of the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women. "It shows how little priority is given to women's issues and how quickly our rights can be bartered away."
Karen Strickler, director of the Maryland affiliate of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said: "Governor Schaefer is admitting to reneging on a campaign promise. We hope it's not his final word."
Schaefer said in off-the-cuff remarks to reporters Tuesday that he would not ask the state legislature for more money to help poor women obtain abortions despite a 1986 campaign pledge to lead the fight for more lenient rules on Medicaid-funded abortions.
Instead, the governor said he would put more money into the budget for women who want to bear children and put them up for adoption.
However, Schaefer said through a spokesman today that he had not completely made up his mind on the issue.
"My mind is open," Schaefer press secretary Bob Douglas quoted the governor as saying. "I'm planning to discuss this, but I wanted people to know this is the path I'm headed on."
Del. Patricia Sher (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Catherine Riley (D-Harford), two of the General Assembly's leading proponents of increasing the availability of Medicaid-funded abortions, have agreed to attend a long-scheduled meeting Thursday with Schaefer to discuss the issue.
Most prochoice groups said they would wait to hear the outcome of that meeting before they decide on whether to push the issue at the upcoming legislative session without Schaefer's aid.
Maryland is one of 14 states, plus the District, that provide for Medicaid-funded abortions.
However, the funds are available only under the following restrictions: if the woman's life is endangered, if she is a victim of rape or incest, if the fetus is deformed, if there is a substantial risk to the present or future health of the woman or if there is a risk to the present or future mental health of the woman.
Prochoice activists say those restrictions prohibit many poor women from receiving abortions and that there is a growing problem with receiving a doctor's certification that a pregnancy presents a risk to a woman's future health or mental health.
There were 3,307 state-funded abortions performed from July 1985 through June 1986, according to Steven Rivelis of Marylanders for the Right to Choose. The cost was $2.1 million, he said.
The key to changing the restrictive language, proponents and opponents agree, is having it inserted in the budget that Schaefer submits to the legislature.
That is what Schaefer had promised to do in the 1986 campaign. In fact, after Schaefer made the pledge to women legislators at a meeting that summer, Sher said she campaigned vigorously against Schaefer's opponent, former attorney general Stephen Sachs, because Schaefer was more forthright on the issue.
Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's), who is the General Assembly's leading opponent of more liberal abortion laws, called Schaefer's decision "gutsy" and predicted that it would mean the issue would not come up during the legislative session that begins in January.