The Maryland Senate today passed a much-diluted version of a House bill that would have doctors notify parents of girls under 18 before performing abortions on them.
The bill was pushed through the Senate by Sen. Margaret C. Schweinhaut (D-Montgomery) over the strenuous objections of Sen. Rosalie Abrams (D-Baltimore), but not before Abrams successfully tacked on two amendments that substantially weakended its provisions calling for parental notification.
"We did manage to cripple the bill" with amendments, Abrams said.
The first Abrams amendment exempts a doctor from the notification requirement if, in his judgment, notification would result in a delay that would endanger the life or health of the under-18 patient.
The second provides that a doctor cannot be sued for malpractice if he or she fails to notify parents before performing the operation.
"Even though we got the amendments on the bill," Abrams told the Senate minutes before the vote was taken, "in my opinion this is still a mischievous bill. It sends a notice to young people of this state that they no longer have the confidentiality they have now . . .
"Abortion has been a emotional issue for the last 3,000 to 4,000 years," she continued. "It will not end with this session. This bill takes us many, many days back to the time when a woman, if she had to get an abortion, had to go to a back-alley abortionist."
Schweinhaut's appeal was much simpler. "The pendulum was swung too far," she said, "and it's time to let the pendulum swing back in this very mild bill to let the parents know what is happening to the child they brought into this world."
The bill failed altogether on the first vote by a 17-to-19 margin. After two senators complained they had not been able to register their votes in time, a second tally was taken, and the bill passed, 24 to 15, receiving the minimum number of votes a bill can receive and still pass.
Although the bill already has been approved by the House of Delegates, it now will go back to the House for consideration of the amendments before going to Mandel for his signature.
With the session only three days from ending, Schweinhaut expressed concern that the House might not have time to act on the amended version of the bill before Monday night's close of session.
Meanwhile, the House approved by a vote of 91 to 42 a bill that would put the legislature on record as supporting use of the controversial cancer treatment Laetrile.
Laetrile is an extract of apricot or peach pits, praised by users for eliminating some cancer symptoms - and in some cases producing apparent cures - but rejected by most of organized medicine.
At a hearing in February, Laetrile advocates literally performed hadnstands in support of the drug, while representatives of the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society opposed it as a useless placebo that many patients might use instead of orthodox medical treatments.
Although the bill already has been approved by the Senate, it must go back to the Senate for reconsideration because it was amended in the House. The House amendment changes the reference to the drug in the law from Laetrile to its generic name, amygdalin.
In other action, the House passed and sent to Gov. Marvin Mandel a bill that will result in an additional cost of about $35 each for 18,000 elderly Medicaid patients.
Under Maryland law, increases in Social Security payments have not been computed since 1971 for purposes of determining Medicaid eligibility. During that time, according to testimony, a number of Medicaid recipients' Social Security payments have increased enough that they would be ineligible for Medicaid.
The bill enacted today would force those people to pay the difference between their incomes and the Medicaid ceiling before becoming eligible for Medicaid.
Finally, the House enacted a bill that gives the state secretary of agriculture board authority to find ways to rid areas of the state of plagues of nuisance birds.
Each year, skies over the Frederick County community of Graceham are darkened by the onslaught of millions of red-wing blackbirds. The birds perch on tree branches, covering the ground with up to 6 inches of drippings and creating a stench so foul that some residents cannot open their doors and windows on the hottest days of the year.
Efforts to get rid of the birds have failed. The bill approved today would allow the secretary of agriculture to experiment with new methods of discouraging the birds from their yearly migration stop in Graceham.