Abortion Bill May Reach Md. Senate Floor
By Lisa Frazier
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee spent more than two hours yesterday listening to testimony and is expected to give the bill its approval, perhaps as early as next week, lawmakers said. Sen. Larry E. Haines (R-Carroll) has introduced the measure the last three years, but this would be the first time the debate reached the Senate floor.
In the past, abortion rights advocates have engaged in successful parliamentary tactics to keep the measure bottled up in committee. But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) has promised proponents of the measure that they could have a floor vote if they could find the votes in committee, and it appears the proposed bill has the support of seven of the committee's 11 members.
Miller said he anticipates so much acrimony and divisiveness when the bill makes it to the Senate that "friendships that have existed for years will be sorely tested." Miller said he will vote for the bill.
"It's very difficult for me," he said. "I believe health care decisions be long between a woman and her physician. I'd like to see government out of the health decisions and bedrooms of the citizenry. . . . But I personally cannot favor late-term abortions in any circumstance."
Even if it passes the Senate, the measure must be approved in the House and signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to become law. Glendening (D) yesterday vowed to veto the measure if it reaches his desk, but the issue could cause him political problems in his reelection campaign.
Although Glendening has received strong support from abortion rights advocates in the past, even some usual supporters of abortion rights have embraced the ban on so-called partial-birth abortions. The procedure refers to a situation in which the fetus, too large for other abortion methods to be effective, is partially delivered, then aborted.
In an interview, Glendening urged the legislature to "do the right thing" and reject the bill. "I obviously know this whole issue of abortion is very serious and is to be treated with the greatest attention and care," he said. "But I also believe in the right of a woman in consultation with her doctor to make the decision."
Glendening said he is concerned that the bill would limit a doctor's choices when the life and health of a woman are at stake. The bill makes an exception only when the life of the mother is threatened.
Haines, who has 11 co-sponsors on the bill, said support for the legislation is about evenly split in the Senate, but he issued this warning to Glendening:
"The governor should consider the polls and do some polling on his own before vetoing this bill," he said. "Things are changing in Maryland, particularly on this issue."
Twenty other states have outlawed the late-term abortion procedure. The Virginia legislature approved a similar ban this week, and Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) is expected to sign it. The Maryland bill is modeled after federal legislation passed twice by Congress and vetoed by President Clinton.
At yesterday's hearing, supporters of the ban argued that the procedure is inhumane, barbaric and unnecessary. Opponents say the wording of the bill is unclear, could ban all abortions and could create a "chilling effect" among physicians who would face up to two years in jail and a $1,000 fine for violating the law. Lawyers with the attorney general's office have concluded the bill is unconstitutional.
In 1990, the last time abortion became an issue in Maryland, a filibuster paralyzed the General Assembly for eight days. The next year, the legislature approved significant abortion rights legislation, which voters approved through a referendum the next year.
Sen. Vernon Boozer (R-Baltimore County) remembers the contentious abortion debate well. "I'd hoped that I'd never ever have to face it again," he said.
But Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson (R-Carroll), a co-sponsor of the bill, said that even if the bill doesn't get through the legislature, the debate won't go away.
"It comes up every year because this is the one clinical procedure gruesome enough to win over even the moderates," he said. "This is our way of keeping the issue alive. This is one of those issues that will be debated for years to come."
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