ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 18 -- The Maryland House of Delegates enacted legislation today securing access to legal abortion while requiring physicians to inform minors' parents in some cases, and the measure was promptly signed into law by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

The 84 to 52 vote in the House came after a wrenching debate about abortion last year in the General Assembly and a fall election season that was dominated by the issue. The state Senate approved the bill by a wide margin last week.

Schaefer, who has said he personally opposes abortion, signed the measure 40 minutes after the House action, but he expressed ambivalence about its central provisions.

"It's not a happy occasion," Schaefer said during a hastily arranged bill-signing ceremony outside his State House office. "I had great difficulty with it {but} I think the bill is right."

Attacked by opponents as the most liberal abortion law in the country, the measure allows abortion without restrictions up to the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb. Later-term abortions may be performed to protect the woman's health or in the event of serious fetal deformity.

"We will find Maryland to be the abortion mill of the East," said Del. Marsha G. Perry (D-Anne Arundel), an abortion opponent.

One supporter of the bill, Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery), said many abortion-rights legislators were disappointed that it requires parental notification in certain cases.

However, Franchot added, "It establishes Maryland as a national leader in speaking out for women."

Despite today's vote, abortion is likely to remain an issue in statewide politics. For instance, opponents of the new law have vowed to gather petitions to challenge it in a November 1992 statewide vote.

"This is only the first round," said Pat Kelly, a lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference. "A referendum is the next step."

In enacting the bill, Maryland appeared to be bucking one current national trend toward stricter abortion regulation. This year, Utah approved a virtual ban on abortions and similar legislation was passed in the state Senate in South Dakota.

Nine other states are considering such legislation, and about 110 bills seeking a variety of abortion restrictions have been introduced in 47 state legislatures, according to the National Abortion Rights Action League.

Since July 1989, when the Supreme Court gave states more authority to restrict abortions, seven states have enacted restrictive abortion laws. Only two states -- Nevada by a ballot initiative and Connecticut by statute -- have adopted laws that have provisions similar to Maryland's.

The Maryland bill was approved and sent to Schaefer after an unsuccessful, last-ditch attempt by antiabortion legislators to amend it to ensure that hospitals and health care professionals were protected if they refused to refer a woman for an abortion, either out of religious or moral beliefs.

Abortion-rights leaders argued against the "conscience clause" amendment, saying doctors and hospitals would be vulnerable to lawsuits or disciplinary actions only by failing to refer women whose pregnancies posed health risks. The amendment failed this afternoon on a 73 to 61 vote.

During the bill-signing ceremony, Schaefer said he would support a separate bill that would clarify the conscience clause.

In large measure, the new Maryland law closely tracks the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, which established abortion as a legal right. In pushing the Maryland measure through the legislature, advocates cited their concern that the nation's highest court might one day overturn the landmark ruling.

Today's victory for abortion-rights lawmakers was tempered by the provision requiring parental notification for girls under 18 who seek an abortion. As long as the Roe decision remains intact, the parental-notice requirement will be the only part of the law that changes current practice in Maryland when the law goes into effect July 1.

Parents will have to be notified unless physicians conclude that the girl is mature enough to decide or that the notice could lead to abuse or is not in her best interest.

Because Maryland does not have a mandatory reporting law, there are no firm estimates on the number of abortions performed each year.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene put the number in 1989 at 22,000, but some organizations say the total is about 30,000. Planned Parenthood officials estimated that women 19 years old and younger account for about 25 percent of the total.

The legislative debate in Maryland has been the focus in recent days of national advocacy groups on both sides of the issue.

Kate Michelman, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, hailed the action as a "necessary and vital step toward safeguarding the health and lives of Maryland women."

"We welcome this action at a time when three direct challenges to Roe are already winding their way through the judicial pipeline to the U.S. Supreme Court," she said.

"Obviously, we are concerned that the health and welfare of young women could be endangered by the restrictions for women under the age of 18, but that concern is tempered by the physicians' waiver," she added.

Antiabortion organizations decried passage of the bill, calling it the most liberal state law of its kind in the country.

"Maryland is out of step," said Wendy Stone, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based Americans United for Life. "The fact is if you go all the way to Roe versus Wade, that's going pretty far to begin with, but then to liberalize it at other points is to go about as far as you can go."

Stone and other antiabortion leaders have derided parental notification, saying that it leaves decisions to physicians, who may have an economic interest.

The parental notification in the Maryland law puts the state with 14 others that have enforceable laws. Some states' laws cannot be enforced because they do not meet the Supreme Court's requirement that young women be able to bypass their parents by getting approval from doctors or the courts.

Staff writers Fern Shen and Howard Schneider contributed to this report.