- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

ANNAPOLIS Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele last night made a brief appearance at a pro-life rally at the State House, drawing praise from an enthusiastic crowd.
The lieutenant governor spent less than a minute on the stage, waving and giving the thumbs-up sign to the crowd of about 300 people who took part in the 24th annual Annapolis March for Life.
Although the crowd called out for a speech, Mr. Steele, a Republican, did not say a word.
The appearance had created some speculation in recent days that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration, which campaigned on a promise to maintain the status quo on Maryland's abortion laws, might be rethinking its position.
But officials from the governor's staff, Mr. Steele's office and rally organizer Maryland Right to Life all downplayed the lieutenant governor's involvement.
"He is not going to participate. He is going to make an appearance," said Steele spokeswoman Regan Hopper.
Maryland Right to Life spokesman David Lam said an earlier news release indicated only that Mr. Steele would "participate" in the event, not that he would march or speak at the rally. "We got word that he was going to participate. I did not say speak or address or walk in the march," he said.
Mr. Steele, a Roman Catholic, has long espoused his pro-life views, even when campaigning alongside Mr. Ehrlich, but administration officials said the two men respect the difference of opinion.
"The governor has always been pro-life," Mrs. Hopper said. "It is no secret and [Mr. Steeles] position does not change the governor's position."
Mr. Ehrlich has said he favors some abortion rights.
The candlelight march followed a mile-and-a-half route from the Navy stadium to the rally in front of the State House. In addition to Maryland Right to Life, the event was sponsored by the Maryland Catholic Conference and the Family Protection Lobby.
The rally included the singing of the national anthem and a prayer led by Bishop Leonard Oliver, who represented the state's Catholic bishops.
The rally was attended by most of the pro-life legislators, including state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford Republican, and Delegate Carmen Amedori, Carroll Republican.
Paul Schurick, the governor's communications director, said the abortion issue had not created a rift between the two executives.
"The governor has always made it clear that he is a strong supporter of the pro-life movement," Mr. Schurick said. He said the governor and lieutenant governor had discussed the ramifications of participating in the march and the governor "was not bothered by it."
The rally came as the House prepares for hearings on a bill to strengthen the parental-notification law, requiring doctors to get a court decision to waive parental notice for unmarried women younger than 18 who want an abortion. The issue of state-funded abortion for the poor is also likely to become an issue during budget negotiations.
Delegate Robert A. Zirkin, a pro-choice Baltimore County Democrat, said he didn't believe the governor had reined in Mr. Steele's involvement in the rally.
"Bob and Mike have a great relationship, but they don't agree with each other on every issue," he said. "This won't affect their personal or working relationship."
He doubted that Mr. Steele's pro-life stance would have any influence over the parental-notice bill, which he gave little chance of passing. "I just think it is a bad bill," he said.
Richard A. Sossi, a pro-life Eastern Shore Republican, also didn't suspect the governor had clamped down on Mr. Steele.
"If it was the previous administration I might believe there was some sort of control" being exerted, he said.
Mr. Lam of the Maryland Right to Life said the march and rally sent an important message to the state's lawmakers.
"The unborn don't have a voice, so we are taking this stand on their behalf," he said.

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