A bill that would require a wife to notify her husband of a planned abortion was denounced by women's rights advocates today as an invasion of privacy and "outrageous interference by the state in a woman's constitutional rights."
The proposal, one of a half dozen measures dealing with the issue in this year's legislature, comes at a time when the right to have an abortion has apparently been settled by the U.S. Supreme Court and legislators are beginning to grapple with how to regulate legal abortions.
Nonetheless, the issue is still highly volatile, and it continues to attract women's rights groups as well as those opposed to abortion to public hearings such as those held in the House and Senate today.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard testimony on a bill that would require a physician to tell a woman immediately before an abortion that if she chose instead to give birth at full term, the state might provide her with financial aid if she keeps the child, and help in arranging an adoption if she does not.
The same committee also heard debate today on a measure that would require a second physician to be present during abortions performed after the 20th week of conception so if the aborted child were delivered alive, the second doctor could take over and perform all possible life-saving actions.
While the so-called right-to-life proponents spoke in favor of the Senate proposals, they didn't show up for the hearing in the House of Delegates on the bill offered by House Majority Leader John S. Arnick (D-Baltimore) that would require a wife a notify her husband of a planned abortion. According to one women's rights advocate, "that showed how ridiculous Arnick's bill is. He just did it so he could tell the folks back home he tried," said Alice B. Frandsen of the Women's Lobby.
Arnick defended his proposal as an effort to "encourage consultation" between husband and wife before the woman goes ahead with "an irreversible act" for which her husband also has legal responsibilities.
Del. Catherine L. Riley (D-Anne Arundel) said he assumed there would no need for notification unless the marriage was in trouble, and said that therefore the proposal would merely give the husband "new grounds for adultery" in a divorce action.
Arnick replied that under those circumstances the husband "might enjoy getting out of the marriage." Del. S. Frank Shore (D-Montgomery) added that "the husband may now learn of an abortion, only when he gets the bill 30 days later."
Jane Meneely of the National Organization of Women (NOW) said the bill discriminates against wives because "they have no way to prove their husbands are adulterers. Why not require that wives be notified when their husband's girl friends get pregnant?"
Frandsen of Silver Spring, speaking for the Women's Lobby, said lawyer Arnick's eyes "light up like a Christmas tree" at the prospect of increased divorce business. Arnick's proposal is "just more harassment of women, interferes with the doctor-patient relationship and discriminates against married women," she said.
Dr. Frank Kaltreider of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, speaking for the State Medical Society and State Health Department, opposed the bill, saying it might lead to beatings of unfaithful wives by irate husbands.
If witnesses before Arnick's Environmental Affairs Committee are any indication, his bill is in trouble. But other proposals dealing with abortion problems appear to have more solid support.
A proposal by Sen. Margaret Schweinhaut (D-Mont.) would require notification of parents that their daughter is going to have an abortion, if she is single, under 18 and living at home.
"Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly (D-Prince George's), who sponsored the proposal to give alternative information to women seeking abortions, said that while he is opposed to abortions except in rare circumstances, his bill "doesn't prevent or prohibit abortions." It would, he said, tell prospective mothers that she has a choice, and if she decides to carry the child to birth, the state will provide help for her.
Chris Mooney, director of the Center for Life at Providence Hospital in Washington, said many abortion clinics "don't even tell women there is help" elsewhere. She said most "are profit making concerns and have a vested interest in encouraging women to abort."
Speaking in favor of requiring a second physician at late-term abortions, Mooney, nearly in tears, talked of "the absurdity of having to defend a born child's right to be treated humanely is heartbreakening and stomach-turning."
Dr. William Hogan of Silver Spring, an obstetrician and brother of former Congressman Larry Hogan, (R-Md.), described three incidents that he said occurred in the early 1970s at Washington area hospitals (Suburban, Columbia and Washington Hospital Center) in which live babies were discarded as dead fetuses after abortions. They were discovered by other doctors who made desperate but futile efforts to save their lives, Hogan said.
Dr. Kaltreider said the "time Dr. Hogan talked about is passed," although he said he would support changing the Maryland law to permit abortions only in the first 20 weeks, instead of the present 26 weeks.