Activists focus on abortion referendum


The fight over abortion moves back to Annapolis this afternoon, as advocates on both sides of the issue gear up for the 1992 referendum that will decide if Maryland's new abortion law takes effect or is rejected by voters.

At 3 p.m. today, anti-abortion activists plan to turn over to the state more than 100,000 additional signatures asking to put the new measure -- which they say is far too liberal -- on the November 1992 ballot.

"I think that this law is so extreme that there are people around the state who have in the past felt that abortion should be kept legal, but not under these extreme circumstances," said Art Sawyer, a spokesman for the Vote Know Coalition.

This is the coalition's second delivery of petitions. The group turned in more than 30,000 names to the secretary of state on May 31.

By law, the group needs to file the certified signatures of only 33,373 Maryland voters, or 3 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, to put the issue on the ballot.

As the abortion opponents are pushing hand trucks stacked with petitions over to one state office, abortion-rights advocates will be gathering at another.

Also at 3 p.m., representatives of the Campaign to Save the Right to Choose will be at the State Administrative Board of Election Laws to file papers making their group an official political fund-raising organization.

"What we're trying to do is preserve existing rights," said James Guest, president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland and chairman of the new Campaign to Save the Right to Choose. "What they're trying to do is change existing rights. They're trying to take them away, to go back to 1973," before the U.S. Supreme Court made abortion legal.

The Campaign to Save the Right to Choose, created by groups thatsupport the right to abortion, will manage the referendum campaign in defense of the new abortion law -- including advertising, education and fund raising.

Mr. Guest said the drive may cost more than $1 million. Cindy Hoffman, of the Maryland affiliate of the National Abortion Rights Action League, estimated the cost at $2 million, though she said some advisers have put the figure as high as $6 million.

Mr. Sawyer, the spokesman for the anti-abortion coalition, said his group is still assessing the potential costs of the campaign. He said most of the funds for the anti-abortion campaign will be raised in Maryland.

At issue in the referendum is the abortion law enacted by the General Assembly Feb. 18 and quickly signed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

The law allows no restrictions on abortion until the time in pregnancy when the fetus might survive outside the womb. Later in pregnancy, abortion is allowed only to save the health of the woman or if the fetus has gross deformities.

The referendum stalls the implementation of the law, which was scheduled to take effect Monday. The new measure cannot take effect now unless voters approve it in November 1992, the next statewide election.

If the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision before the Maryland referendum, abortion in the state would be governed by a 1968 law that allows abortion only in hospitals and only if the pregnancy resulted from rape, if the fetus is deformed or if the woman's health is in danger.

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