ANNAPOLIS -- Abortion-rights adovcates in Maryland consider themselves unified as never before.
They voice a common concern, warning that the Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing access to abortions is bound to be overturned by the Supreme Court. And they have common enemies, they say, in the state senators who filibustered and blocked passage of an abortion-rights law this year.
But there is not perfect consensus. Witness the Democratic challenge to Sen. Frank J. Komenda (D-Prince George's).
Komenda was not one of the leading antiabortion senators during the debate. He was not one of the 16 senators who filibustered and held out long enough to force an unworkable compromise on the abortion-rights majority. He was, in fact, one of the 31 senators who voted to shut off the filibuster, a number that fell one short of the votes needed. But when a final vote came, he voted against the abortion-rights measure and for a bill that would have eliminated an estimated 90 percent of abortions.
Having voted for the antiabortion bill but also in favor of ending the filibuster, some analysts said that Komenda could have the worst of both worlds -- not getting strong support from either side. Antiabortion groups say they are concentrating their support on the 16 who never voted to stop the filibuster.
Yet, last week, the Maryland affiliate of the National Abortion Rights Action League named Komenda one of its three prime targets for defeat. The group's political action committee threw its support to his challenger, Del. Gloria Lawlah (D-Prince George's), who calls herself a "pro-choice" lawmaker.
Komenda cried foul, saying he had private assurances that he wouldn't be targeted because he had cast a vote to shut off debate, a parliamentary step called cloture. "Supposedly they were going to take that into account," Komenda said, declining to identify the giver of those assurances.
Responded Karyn Strickler, executive director of the abortion-rights league: "He's a little late. He's had a 16-year anti-choice record, and we need strong, fully pro-choice senators."
So that's that? Not quite.
Sens. Barbara A. Hoffman and Paula C. Hollinger, the chief sponsors of abortion-rights bills in the General Assembly, aren't ready to write Komenda off. In letters to the league, they asked that Komenda not be targeted, noting that he did what was asked of him: namely, he voted to cut off the filibuster.
Hoffman (D-Baltimore) said this week that she will still help Komenda if he asks. She and Hollinger (D-Baltimore County) sent similar letters to Komenda so he could use them in "any way he wants" during his campaign. "We knew that there were some people that we could count on for cloture but not for the vote itself. Since the critical Senate vote was the cloture vote, we were pleased with Senator Komenda's action," they wrote.
Hoffman also agreed with Komenda that more may be at work in the league's targeting than meets the eye. Even without the abortion issue, some analysts felt Komenda was vulnerable in a district with a growing black population. Komenda is white, Lawlah is black.
"I think the only reason he was targeted was they thought this was one they could win," Hoffman said.