Suburban Maryland antiabortionists, many toting babies and wearing buttons touting their cause, overwhelmed a coalition of women's groups this weekend in voting to select two delegates to an upcoming White House conference on the family.
The generally conservative antiabortion forces, more than 5,000 strong, flooded polls set up at High Point High School in Beltsville, to the consternation of their more liberal foes.
"Prochoice (on abortion) people are so apathetic it makes me sick," groused Frances Singer of Silver Spring as she watched conservatives crowding the registration tables at the high school. "I'm going home before I hit someone."
As Mormons, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics and members of fundamentalist churches lined up to cast their ballots, one opposition leader, Fran Shea of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights complained the antiabortionists were "turning this into a one-issue event."
"Speak-outs" at which citizens were invited to discuss other family issues like drug abuse, handicapped children and the elderly were sparsely attended.
"I honestly don't even have a full grasp on what this conference is about," said Bill Farr, 30, a Kensington contractor, "but we're committed to Christian principles." Farr said his Christian Fellowship church urged him to show up and vote.
The winning delegates, elected by a 3-to-1 margin, were Elizabeth Mary Bowen, a Silver Spring antiabortion activist, and Carl Middledorf, a Mormon from Rockville, who will represent Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
The turnout by their conservative backers followed a pattern already established in some other states, where similar groups have seized on the conference as a chance to extol motherhood and the family and decry abortion, day-care and the Equal Rights Amendment.
In an emotional battle in Virginia last November, a throng of antiabortion, antifeminist conservatives elected a stunning 22 of the state's 24 representatives to the conference, scheduled to take place in three cities this summer.
In Maryland, elections to pick a total of 10 representatives are scheduled or have been held in five areas of the state. Conservatives won two seats last week in Western Maryland and another two in Baltimore over the weekend. Elections are scheduled for next week in southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.
Another 20 Maryland delegates will be appointed, 10 by Gov. Harry Hughes and 10 by a citizen panel chosen by Hughes -- a sore point with conservatives who fear the appointees may not be sympathetic to their position. c
"We are concerned about the proabortion, prohomosexual, antifamily groups that have formed to manipulate this conference," said James Miller of Bowie. "Gov. Hughes is using our tax money to stack the deck."
Conference organizers, conscious of the conservative's zealous efforts, view the 20 state-appointees as a guarantee that all views will be represented fairly.
The few black citizens present, who complained that word of the event had not reached their communities, also expressed relief that their views would be represented by government appointees.
"We were afraid these busloads of rightwingers would overshadow the problems of black families, said Tanya Hawkins, who wore a T-shirt proclaiming "A Woman's Place is in the House and the Senate."
"We're talking about survival -- jobs, housing and social services."
The conferences were proposed last year by President Carter, who declared the "American family is under unprecedented pressure" and appointed a national committee to organize the sessions.
Among those voting this weekend was the executive director of the national conference, John Carr, who lives in Oxon Hill.
A bag of diapers for his sleeping infant slung over his shoulder, Carr said he hoped that once the conferences started, delegates would put aside their differences and discuss how government can help families care for their elderly members and children.
"These people have more in common than they realize," he said.