Doctors at Prince George's General Hospital have written to County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan to protest his Aug. 11 order banning abortions in the county's two hospitals.
The hospital's executive committee, representing 400 doctors, told Hogan they "cannot in good conscience accept the political dictates as to medical practice as exemplified by the recent edict
The letter questioned the legality of the order and the fact that it requires that hospitals file monthly reports with details of each abortion performed.
". . . To divulge information from the medical records of those seeking abortions is a breach of confidentiality," the letter charged.
It continued, "The committee further feels the directive is the result of the personal and moral persuasion of the county executive."
A copy of the Aug. 25 letter was obtained by The Washington Post.
It was signed by Dr. John S. Haught, president of the medical staff.
Hogan could not be reached for comment.
Hogan's order bans abortions in county hospitals and clinics except those necessary to prevent the death of the mother.
In his order, Hogan cited a recent Supreme Court decision upholding the Hyde Admendment, which limits the use of federal Medicade funds for abortions.
Hogan said the court had reaffirmed "the legitimate governmental interest in protecting the life of an unborn child."
Hogan's health aide, Irv Smith, who helped draft the order, said Hogan within his authority because the county provides funds to both Prince George's General Hospital and Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital.
The doctors' protest do not necessarily stem from a proabortion view said Dr. Roy Skipton, coordinatorr of medial education in obstetrics and gynecology at Prince Georges General.
Some doctors on the staff find abortions immoral and some favor a woman's right to choose an abortion, he said.
What irks the doctors, Skipton explained is Hogan's move to curtail their freedom to make medical decisions.
"Everyone has an opinion," said Haught. "It just so happens that Hogan is in a postion to force his opinion on the county -- and that's wrong.
"If it's legal and proper for him to do this, then why can't he also change some other procedures, like tonsilectomies?" he asked.
Haught said he was uncertain as to what, if any, effect the doctors' protests will have, but said it was possible that an individual doctor might sue to overturn Hogan's order.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU) said it is preparing a suit challanging the county executive's authority to issue the order.
"We are looking very seriously into bringing suit . . . I anticipate we will be doing so very soon," said ALCU spokesman Fred Joseph.
The Alcu may be joined in its actions by a number of women's organizations and at least one group representing doctors, according to Joseph. He declined to name the groups.
The doctors said Hogan neither informed nor consulted the hospital staff or the Prince George's Hospital Commission, which runs the two hospitals, before giving his order.
The county council also was surprised by the order, said council member Anne Landry Lombardi.
The doctors also said the order will have little effect on the number of abortions performed on female residents of Prince George's County.
Most Prince George's County women seeking abortions go to private clinics in Washington, Baltimore and Montgomery County, said Prince George's health department supervisor.
The health department referred about 1,100 pregant women last year to 22 abortion clinics, according to Julie Devereaux, supervisor of the maternal health clinic.
Prince George's County Hospital, largest of the county hospitals, last year performed only about 35 to 50 of the "on demand," or not medically necessary, abortions now banned by the Hogan order, according to Skipton.
None of these, he said, were performed on Medicade patients. The hospital abortions cost about $500 each, as compared with the $160 to $300 charged by the clinics.
One member of the hospial commission, who declined to be named, said Hogan's order undercut the commission's authority, but added there is little the commission can do about it.
"Our legal staff is the same one that told him he could do it in the first place," the commissioner said.
Jacqueline Brown, chairwoman of the Prince George's County Commission on Women, said she disagreed with the order but that her commission, as a matter of policy, would do nothing.
Abortions, she said, were not high on a list of priorities the county's women composed after a survey was taken last year.
Council member Lombardi agreed with the doctors that intrusion into medical practice, not abortion, is the issue.
But Hogan aide Smith stated flatly: Hospitals are not run by doctors, they are run by administrators.
"We don't consult them when we make other decisions, Why should we consult with them on a matter of general policy? he asked. "It wouldn be protocol."