On to referendum


The ink was barely dry on Maryland's new abortion-rights law before abortion opponents threatened to take the issue to referendum. This, we think, is a fine idea. The sooner the better.

The steady drone of the abortion-rights fight has preoccupied the political attention of this state for too long. It has sapped crucial time and energy from the legislative process and dominated debate with talk of would-be children, deflecting attention from the real problems of hunger, education, homelessness and poverty that afflict the already-existing children of the state.

For all this, the indisputable issue was clear in the Senate's passage of the abortion-rights bill, which occurred without debate: It is that regardless of how long opponents shout at one another across the living rooms and hearing rooms of Maryland, no one's mind is ever changed. The compromise between those who call themselves "pro-life," and those who support freedom of choice was struck by the Supreme Court in 1973. It was Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision that established abortion as a legal right.

Despite charges that the state's new law is among the most liberal in the nation, in fact, it breaks no new ground. The law essentially codifies the principles of the Roe case in the event that politics of the Reagan era, which have been chipping away at the decision, ultimately overturn it. It merely permits women -- rather than church or state -- to decide whether and when to have children -- until the fetus can survive on its own outside the womb, a point at which, the high court noted, the state's legitimate interests must be balanced with personal concerns.

The voters of this state made their preferences pretty clear on this score in the last election when they tossed out incumbents who were perceived as ardently anti-choice and installed instead a cadre of lawmakers they felt confident would -- and finally did -- pass a bill that codifies the rights laid out in Roe.

Those who would revoke that right are intent on taking the issue directly to the voters, so let the petition-signing begin. We are confident that the people of Maryland will approve this law and allow each woman in this state to decide, based on her own beliefs and personal aspirations, whether and when to bear children.

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