ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 5 -- A Maryland Senate committee today approved an abortion-rights measure requiring that parents be notified in some cases when their teenage daughters seek an abortion.
The measure, with no restrictions on adults' early-term abortions, would be far more liberal than other Maryland laws that would go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The 1968 Maryland laws, which cannot be enforced now because of Roe, virtually ban abortion.
On a 7 to 4 vote, the Judicial Proceedings Committee sent to the Senate floor a bill likely to reignite many of the strong emotions that stalled an abortion-rights package last year. But the provision requiring parental notification for some minors also leaves some abortion-rights advocates in a quandary.
For example, Sen. Janice Piccinini (D-Baltimore County), an abortion-rights supporter, said she voted for the bill "so as not to be an obstructionist."
In replacing the old Maryland abortion laws, the new proposal would prohibit the state from interfering in an abortion decision before the point at which a fetus could survive outside the womb. Abortions later in a pregnancy would be allowed to protect the life or health of the woman or in cases of rape or grave fetal deformity.
Under the bill, a physician could decide not to notify parents if the minor is sufficiently mature to give informed consent, if there is a likelihood of physical or mental abuse, or if notification would not be in the minor's best interests.
Leaders said the measure could be considered later this week by the 47-member Senate, where a majority supports abortion rights.
Karyn Strickler, executive director of the Maryland chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said she was disappointed that the measure includes a parental notification provision. "It's quite probably going to pass, but we don't plan to stop fighting," she said.
Pat Kelly, a lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference, which opposes abortion, called the committee vote a "charade" orchestrated by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's). "They got their marching orders from above," Kelly said.
A separate proposal that would have written the language of Roe v. Wade into state law was rejected by the committee on a 9 to 2 vote. That proposal would not require parental notification.
Parental notification has become a central battleground in the abortion debate since such laws were upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, provided they include a way to bypass parents through the courts or a physician.
Currently, 38 states have laws requiring parental notification or consent for girls under age 18. Most of the laws, however, are not being enforced.
Miller, the Senate's presiding officer, has been gathering support for the bill that passed today and has top lieutenants pushing it. After today's vote, he said only that he was "pleased with the process."
The notification issue caused soul-searching among some abortion-rights legislators on the committee. Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Montgomery), who ultimately voted for the bill that prevailed, said government "is not competent to legislate the lives of free people."
But an antiabortion member of the committee, Sen. Habern Freeman (D-Harford), said important considerations were lost in the debate. "Life is the issue," Freeman said. "It's society's duty to protect it."
Senators voting for the bill: Walter M. Baker (D-Cecil); Mary H. Boergers (D-Montgomery); Denis; Ralph M. Hughes (D-Baltimore); Frederick C. Malkus Jr. (D-Dorchester); John A. Pica Jr. (D-Baltimore); and Piccinini.
Senators voting against the bill: Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County); Freeman; Philip C. Jimeno (D-Anne Arundel); and Donald F. Munson (R-Washington).