Voter league opposes revising abortion query


ANNAPOLIS -- The League of Women Voters yesterday joined the debate over the wording of the abortion question on the November ballot -- charging that rewriting the language, as urged by abortion opponents, could "confuse the voter about the intent and the impact of the law."

"The ballot is clearly not the place for a biased presentation reflecting one view or another," said Patty Pollard, president of the League of Women Voters of Maryland.

The league, squarely behind the new abortion-rights law, is a member of the leadership council of Maryland for Choice. And while Ms. Pollard said the league's opposition to new ballot language is based on concern for the voter, abortion opponents charged it is "crass politicking."

"They may claim to be non-partisan, but they certainly aren't impartial," said Ellen Curro, the Vote kNOw Coalition's executive director. "Folks should know that the non-partisan league is an active member of the leadership council that's pumping dollars into the other side."

The abortion-rights law, passed by the Maryland legislature in February 1991, was designed to keep most state abortions legal, even if the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.

The dispute over how the abortion issue should be presented on the fall ballot has simmered for months. Today, it reaches Maryland's highest court.

Last week, an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of abortion opponents, who had gone to court to challenge the ballot language written by the Maryland attorney general. Judge Bruce C. Williams ordered the attorney general to come up with new language that described the law's provisions more specifically.

The state immediately appealed that ruling, and today the Court of Appeals will hear arguments from both sides. Final wording must be settled and sent to local election boards by Aug. 25 to be ready for the Nov. 3 vote.

Ms. Pollard said the league wants the ballot language to begin with a general statement of the new law's purpose: to prevent the government from interfering with a decision to have an abortion before the fetus can live outside the womb.

The Vote kNOw Coalition wants it to begin with the first issue addressed in the law -- requiring notice, in some cases, to parents of minors who want abortions.

Ms. Pollard said that would be misleading because "many voters will read only the first few words. They may be given the impression that they are voting to limit parental notification, rather than to protect freedom of reproductive choice. This is a distortion of the principal impact of the bill and will make our job of explaining the ballot issue that much harder."

But Ms. Curro alleged that the league's goal, in taking a stand the day before the high court hearing, is very clear.

"The league wishes nothing less than to blatantly prejudice and pressure the Court of Appeals prior to consideration of the case," Ms. Curro said.

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