The American Civil Liberties Union asked a Prince George's County Circuit Court judge yesterday to overturn County Executive Lawrence Hogan's order banning abortions in couny medical facilities.
The ACLU filed the suit after a Laurel woman, identified in court papers only as Jane Doe, and her doctor asked officials at the Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital in Laurel to schedule her for an elective abortion this Thursday.
Judge Howard S. Chasanow is expected to rule on the woman's request today, but likely will not hear general arguments on the ban until Nov. 3. The ban prohibits any abortions in the two county-owned and operated hospitals except those necessary to save the mother's life. It also orders the hospitals to sumit monthly reports detailing the number of abortions performed and the reasons for them.
According to Hogan's son and top aide, Lawrence Hogan Jr., about 100 elective abortions were performed each year at the two hospitals before the ban went ito effect. None has been performed in the two months since then.
The abortion ban has generated intense debate throughout the county. County officials and local newspapers have received hundreds of telephone calls and letters both praising and condemming Hogan for his actions.
Among those who have criticized Hogan are many doctors who practice at the two hospitals, including the executive committee of the medical staff at the county-owned Prince George's General Hospital in Cheverly. The doctors have accused Hogan of invading the privacy of their medical practices and their patients' records and of improperly setting policy in a field in which he is not trained.
Women's groups have charged that Hogan has unconstitutionally eliminated a woman's freedom of choice to have an abortion and has imposed his moral and religious beliefs on all county residents.
However, Hogan's son said yesterday that the mail log in the executive's office shows letters on the issue running "11 or 12 to 1" in favor of the ban.
ACLU attorney Stephen Friedman, who is representing Jane Doe, her doctor and another physician on the Laurel staff who has performed abortions, said yesterday that he has asked the court to order the hospital to give his client the abortion she is seeking this Thursday.
In addition, the suit asked the court to strike down Hogan's ban because, Friedman said, Hogan has exceeded his authority by legislating in an area that is legally the domain of either the state legislature, County Council or semi-independent county Hospital Commission. One of those bodies would have to issue the ban for it to be legal, he said.
The suit also charges that Hogan has violated doctors' and patients' records on any abortions performed to the county executive's office.
County Attorney Robert Ostrom said yesterday that Hogan's executive order was like one adopted by the city of St. Louis and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1977. That decision found that the city could legally prohibit abortions at city-owned hospitals. Because of the similarity between the two bans, Ostrom said he expected Hogan's order to be upheld in court.