N ALMOST ANY council of government, a discussion of abortion can trigger sharp emotions as well as produce bad governmental judgments of the most consequential sort. In Prince George's County, where the subject came before local legislators this week in the form of an overly restrictive proposal, there was high drama--but in this instance it all ended in a constructive way, thanks to a thoughtful move by county council member Sue Mills.
A bill was up for council consideration that would have prevented women from getting abortions in the two county-owned hospitals. County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan had originally attempted to impose such a ban by executive order, but a court eventually ruled that this was a matter for a legislative body. Mr. Hogan then sought council action, and five members introduced the bill. At that time, it also appeared to have the necessary sixth vote, from Mrs. Mills.
But on Tuesday, when the roll was called, the impressive moment came when Sue Mills reported the result of a consultation with her conscience:
She abstained--making the vote 5 to 5, one vote short of passage--and explained that "because of my personal religious beliefs, my immediate reaction to this legislation was to favor its adoption. But I believe also that my election to public office did not grant me the license to impose my religious or moral beliefs on others who disagree."
Given the charged atmosphere surrounding abortion questions, along with the possibility that this action could cost her some support, Mrs. Mills showed considerable political courage. For that, those who share her beliefs about abortion but wish the proposal had passed should respect the seriousness with which Mrs. Mills viewed her responsibility to all citizens of the county on this question.