Signing up for latest battle Both sides dig in for long, expensive fight over state's new abortion law.


Maryland's new abortion law appears headed for a noisy, contentious and expensive referendum campaign.

Leaving little to chance, anti-abortion activists yesterday filed 112,935 signatures in favor of putting the abortion law on the November 1992 ballot.

The group last month submitted 26,013 valid signatures, and it needs only 7,360 more from yesterday's batch to put the abortion law to a statewide vote, according to the state board of elections.

Two men used hand trucks to push boxes of signed petitions gathered by the Vote kNOw Coalition into the secretary of state's office in Annapolis yesterday afternoon. Elections officials are planning to begin verifying those signatures within days.

By law, the coalition needs to submit 33,373 signatures of registered voters, or 3 percent of the number of votes cast for governor in the last election. On May 31, the coalition turned in more than 30,000 signatures, 26,013 of which were later found to be valid.

Given the large number of signatures and the group's previous validation rate, it appears likely the coalition will succeed in bringing the issue to a referendum. If so, the new law would not take effect unless voters approve it next year.

The General Assembly passed the law this year, and the governor signed it. Without the law, most abortions in Maryland would be outlawed if the Supreme Court overturns or substantially weakens its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision guaranteeing the right to an abortion, according to abortion rights backers.

The 1991 law permits abortion in the early stages of pregnancy when the fetus cannot survive outside the womb. An abortion could be performed later in the pregnancy if the

fetus is deformed or if the pregnancy threatens the woman's health.

Vote kNOw Coalition members yesterday concentrated their attack on what they said were flaws in the new law. For example, they said, it fails to address abortion clinic licensing issues.

The new law is "the most liberal and permissive abortion law in the nation," said coalition member Paulette Roseboro.

Abortion rights activists strongly disagree. "The law that passed in the legislature this year maintains the status quo," said Jim Guest, chairman of the Campaign to Save the Right to Choose, which supports the new abortion law.

The Right to Choose group filed papers yesterday setting up a fund-raising committee for the referendum fight. Leaders turned in the paperwork at the state elections board in Annapolis less than an hour after the Vote kNOw Coalition submitted its petitions a few blocks away.

Both sides agreed on only point: A referendum fight will likely cost each side more than $1 million.

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