The medical staff of Prince George's County General Hospital is suing County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan for "interference with medical judgment" in his August order banning abortions in county hospitals.
The doctors stress that they are not taking a position on the issue of abortion but feel that the order infringes on their right to make medical decisions.
The medical staff is made up of some 400 private physicians with rights to practice in the Cheverly hospital.Included as plaintiffs are the chiefs of several specialties, including obstetrics, psychiatry, surgery, pediatrics and internal medicine, according to the doctors' lawyer, Maurice Dunie.
A suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Oct. 8 also seeks to overturn Hogan's Aug. 11 order on the grounds that he overstepped his authority in issuing it. In connection with the ACLU action, Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge Howard S. Chassanow ruled Oct. 8 that the county could not stop an 18-year-old woman from having an abortion at Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital.
At the heart of the physicians' lawsuit is a disagreement between the medical staff and Hogan over the county executive's authority in setting hospital policy.
"We're not suing over abortion per se," said Dr. John S. Haught, president of the medical staff at Prince George's General. "We're suing because we feel [Hogan] has overstepped his bounds. That's our beef about it."
The suit seeks to have Hogan's order declared "null and void" and to enjoin Hogan from "illegal and improper intrusions into the exercise of medical judgments," said Dunie.
The attorney's chief argument is that county law charges the board of directors of Prince George's General, as well as the hospital commission that oversees all county hospitals, with setting policy for the facility. There are two physicians on the 10-person board of directors. Dunie said that Hogan violated procedure by issuing the order without consulting the board or the commission.
"What's the purpose of have a board of directors if they are not going to be consulted?" said Dunie. "If Mr. Hogan is correct, then he or some other county executive could prohibit blood transfusions or appendectomies."
Dunie acknowledges that a state law gives hospitals the right to deny abortions, but he said that in this case it was the executive, not the hospital that did the banning.
"If the board of directors of Prince George's County General wanted to ban abortions, they may well be able to do so," Dunie said.
Hogan health aide Irv Smith said that Hogan did not consult the board of directors or the hospital commission. Smith maintained that "hospitals are not run by doctors, they are run by administrators," said that Hogan was not obliged to consult the physicians.
"The buck stops up here," Smith said in his office on the top floor of the County Administration Building. He called the order "a matter of conscience" and added, "No one else could make that decision but him [Hogan]."
Smith said he did not believe the executive was dictating policy.
"Dictate? I don't think so. It [abortion] is just one particular procedure," said Smith. "We [at the executive's office] have vast administrative controls over the hospital. When it gets to this level, a yea or a nay has a definite impact [on medical policy]."
He cited a Hogan decision last year not to purchase certain special X-ray equipment as an example of an administrative decision that preforce ruled out a medical procedure.
The medical staff's suit is scheduled for hearing on Nov. 21, in circuit court in Upper Marlboro.