Maryland's battle over abortion -- a debate that cost four abortion opponents their state Senate seats in last month's Democratic primary -- shows no sign of abating as abortion-rights activists look to November's general election and the legislature's other chamber to bolster their position.
Representatives of abortion-rights groups and Democratic legislative candidates in a key Montgomery County district unveiled yesterday a twofold goal for Nov. 6: creation of a filibuster-proof Senate and a solid majority in the House of Delegates.
"The work is not finished," said Karyn Strickler, executive director of the Maryland National Abortion Rights Action League political action committee.
As abortion-rights activists have moved their battle from the federal level to the states, Maryland has emerged as a prime target because voters seem to be responding to the abortion issue in local elections.
In addition to the ouster of longtime abortion opponents from the state Senate, abortion-rights advocates are taking credit for Gov. William Donald Schaefer's decision to break his four-year silence on the issue by saying last month he would veto any legsislation that would restrict a woman's right to an abortion.
Strickler said the goal for November is to elect enough senators who share their views to prevent a repeat of last year's filibuster that blocked an attempt to loosen abortion restrictions. In addition, she said, abortion-rights activists would like to expand their majority -- currently two or three votes -- in the 141-member House of Delegates.
And, Strickler said, a good place to start is Montgomery's District 15, which encompasses the western an northern regions of the county. The Democrats -- Sen. Laurence Levitan, Del. Gene W. Counihan and candidates Rosemary Glynn and Sally McGarry -- yesterday announced formation of a ticket aimed at capitalizing on the abortion issue.
District 15 provides a "unique opportunity," Strickler said, because it is the only place in the state where there is the chance to pick up two votes in the House for abortion rights. Strickler referred to the seat left vacant when Del. Judith C. Toth, a Democrat who is an abortion opponent, decided to run for the County Council. Strickler also zeroed in on what she characterized as the "consistently anti-choice" record of Republican Del. Jean W. Roesser.
Roesser, set today to announce formation of a GOP ticket, objected to that label. "My position is not extremist. I am not against choice," said Roesser, who said she is personally opposed to abortion but would not vote to make it illegal in the first trimester of pregnancy.
In the only two votes dealing with abortion, Roesser voted to restrict public funding for abortions and she abstained on a bill designed to prevent abortion protesters from blocking access to medical facilites.
Strickler called Roesser "one of the biggest disappointments" on the abortion issue, particularly because there is a relatively small number of women serving in the House.
Democrats in District 15 are hoping the wave of voter sentiment that swept out of office such longtime senators as Montgomery's Margaret C. Schweinhaut and Baltimore County's Francis X. Kelly will repeat itself in November. Consider the name they selected for their ticket: "The Choice Team."
Roesser said she was "very, very disapointed" that Levitan and Counihan, who hold important positions in the legislature's key fiscal committee, have taken "this single-issue route when so many serious issues face the county and the district."
Roesser and her Republican running mates, Richard LaVay and Michael J. Baker, are hoping instead to capitalize on the district's growing Republican enrollment and voter discontent with taxes.
"We all believe in choice," said LaVay, arguing that the Democrats are hoping to confuse voters on the issue. LaVay said he would vote to sustain the Supreme Court's historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, and Baker has said he supports a woman's right to an abortion only in the first trimester.