The Prince George's County Council defeated a controversial bill yesterday that would have prevented women from getting abortions in the two county-owned hospitals, dealing another setback to County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan's efforts to ban such operations in county hospitals.
Hogan's first defeat had come in December, when a Prince George's County Circuit Court judge ruled that Hogan had exceeded his authority when he ordered doctors in county hospitals to stop giving abortions. The court ruled that it was up to a legislative body, not the county executive, to decide the abortion issue.
So Hogan asked the council to introduce legislation banning abortions in the county-owned hospitals. Five of the council members -- all of the white males on the council -- agreed to introduce the bill.
It appeared to have the necessary six votes until several weeks ago. In addition to the five council members who sponsored the bill, council member Sue Mills supported it. But Mills changed her mind about supporting the bill.
Yesterday, when the vote was taken, she abstained, making the vote 5 to 5, one short of passing.
"Because of my personal religious beliefs, my immediate reaction to this legislation was to favor its adoption," Mills said yesterday. "But I believe also that my election to public office did not grant me the license to impose my religious or moral beliefs on others who disagree."
Hogan's reaction to the council's vote was predictable. "I'm very disappointed in the vote and particularly disappointed in Sue Mills," said Larry Hogan Jr., assistant to the executive, quoting his father.
Hogan still is not giving up. He has appealed the Circuit Court judge's ruling that struck down his abortion ban, and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals will consider his appeal on Sept. 12.
In addition, Hogan's abortion ban gets another chance later this month when the council decides whether to approve leasing the county hospitals to a private firm, the Hospital Corporation of America.
The lease, drawn up by Hogan, contains a clause prohibiting the firm from performing abortions in the county-owned hospitals. Council members interviewed yesterday said it was unlikely they would approve the lease if it contains such a clause.
Hogan, a Catholic, has said that he is opposed to abortion for moral and religious reasons. He believes that a fetus is a life that should not be destroyed. His son said his father also is opposed to abortions in county-owned hospitals because "county taxpayers shouldn't be forced to pay for having abortions performed at county hospitals."
The issue of whether to ban abortions in county hospitals has been politically volatile now for more than a year. Council members have been swamped with letters from those who believe abortion is murder, as well as those who believe women should have the right to have abortions.
About 150 speakers testified at a recent public hearing on the bill, and several dozen men and women watched council members vote on the issue yesterday. Council members did not debate the issue before they cast their vote. Each member simply stated his vote and sometimes his reason for it.
"Your government should no longer be a party to killing unborn children," said council member Frank Casula.
Council member Ann Lombardi said, "I feel very strongly that this is personal and that government should not interfere."