The Prince George's County Council heard emotional testimony yesterday from about 150 speakers on both sides of a controversial bill that would prohibit the preforming of abortions at two county-owned hospitals except when necessary to save the mother's life.

"The council would just as soon not have had this issue thrust before it," said council chairman Parris Glendening. [We] would just as soon have left it up to the federal or state government, or opposed any abortion legislation. At the moment, the council seems very closely divided."

Central to yesterday's debate is an order issued by County Executive Lawrence Hogan a year ago that would prevent women in Prince George's County from obtaining abortions at Prince George's General in Cheverly and Greater Laurel-Beltsville in Laurel. The Prince George's circuit court struck down the ban on abortions as unconstitutional on grounds that it exceeded the executive's local administrative authority.

Hogan appealed the circuit court decision to the appellate court and asked the 11-member council to introduce legislation that would accomplish the same goal as the executive order.

No vote on the bill is expected before September when the council resumes after an August break.

Before the public hearing began inside, an enthusiastic crowd of over 100 people gathered near the schoolhouse pond on the west side of the county administration building in Upper Marlboro to hear from five who spoke in support of the bill.

Perched on an overhang above the improvised speaker's platform was a smaller crowd of silent opponents, who had held their own rally earlier.