Md. Rejects 'Partial Birth' Abortion Ban
By Amy Argetsinger
By two votes, the Maryland House of Delegates last night rejected a ban on the procedure known as "partial birth" abortion, ending the strongest push by the state's antiabortion forces in a generation.
The vote, just two weeks after the state Senate narrowly approved a ban, illustrated the "partial-birth" issue's power to divide abortion rights coalitions, even in a liberal-leaning state such as Maryland.
Several lawmakers who typically support abortion rights were among opponents of a procedure they liken to "infanticide"; others, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), indicated they could have supported a ban if it included exemptions to protect a woman's health, which it did not.
Abortion rights activists applauded the rejection of the bill, which they said was unconstitutional and so vague as to potentially criminalize an array of legal abortion procedures.
"This vote sends a strong message that the will of the Maryland voters to protect a woman's right to choose will not be overturned," said Traci Siegel, executive director of the Maryland chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. Glendening – who had planned to veto the bill if it landed on his desk – expressed relief at the vote, saying it would prevent the debate from resurfacing soon.
Abortion foes, heartened by the inroads they made this year after three years of failure, said they would try to return with a retooled ban next year.
The 68 to 70 vote came after an hour-long debate that was one of the House chamber's most emotional and somber in years, punctuated by personal stories and appeals. Del. Martha S. Klima (R-Baltimore County), who supported the ban, sadly recalled her own pregnancy complications; Del. Sue Hecht (D-Frederick), who opposed it, told of a classmate whose illegal abortion rendered her sterile.
The normally raucous room fell silent when ban supporter Del. Thomas E. Dewberry (D-Baltimore County) graphically described the procedure as one in which a doctor draws the fetus into the birth canal, punctures the skull and suctions its contents before removing the body.
"This child is merely inches from Maryland's protection of its life as a person," Dewberry said.
Abortion rights activists accused proponents of trying to prohibit a wider array of abortion procedures now protected by law and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), an emergency room physician, argued that the procedure had been used just once or twice in Maryland, to safely remove fetuses developing without brains and fated to die anyway.
"Anyone who thinks third-term abortions are being performed regularly to kill a healthy fetus is wrong," he said. "Taking this procedure out of the hands of physicians in the few cases it's performed would greatly affect a woman's life and reproductive health."
Opponents also complained that the bill was unconstitutional for allowing a woman's husband or a minor's parents to file suit if a partial-birth procedure was performed without their consent.
Attempts to amend the bill to clear up some of those issues were rejected earlier this week. Abortion rights proponents came out for a ban on the procedure for other emotional reasons. "It is so grotesque it takes it out of the debate of pro-life and pro-choice," said Del. David M. Valderrama (D-Prince George's).
Twenty-five states have banned the procedure, but many have since been overturned or tied up in court. Virginia is one of only seven states with a ban in effect.
Congress has twice passed a ban on the procedure, but President Clinton vetoed it both times.
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