Maryland's governor signed a law preserving a woman's right to an abortion even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its Roe vs. Wade decision. Anti-abortion activists promised to put the issue before voters.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed the bill Monday after the House approved it 84-52. The Senate passed it 29-18 on Feb. 11.The bill was the focus of a yearlong legislative fight over pro-choice legislators' efforts to write into state law key elements of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide for the first time. The bill was launched amid indications the high court might reverse the Roe ruling.
Anti-abortion activists promised to try to overturn the bill through a referendum on the November 1992 ballot. They need to collect 32,300 signatures.
"There's no problem getting those signatures. We've had 80,000 signatures in front of the governor without a bill to raise the people up," said Steve Shaneman, director of the anti-abortion Family Protection Lobby.
Abortion-rights activists said they expect a major fight and plan to raise $1 million, the amount anti-abortion proponents said the battle would cost.
But in the meantime, they celebrated Monday's victory.
"By securing a woman's right to choose, the Maryland Legislature is taking a necessary and vital step toward safeguarding the health and lives of Maryland women," said Kate Michelman, director of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
Anti-abortion activists blasted the law's passage.
"I just think it is one of the saddest days in the history of the state," said former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly. His leadership role in the anti-abortion movement last year is believed to have helped contribute to his election defeat.
Both houses of the heavily Democratic Legislature have tended to be pro-choice in recent years. Last year, a Senate filibuster killed an abortion rights bill, but only after the bill's supporters failed by one vote to get a two-thirds majority to cut off debate.