ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 7 -- As the full Maryland Senate took up the volatile issue of abortion today, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) squared off against House members who oppose the Senate bill's parental notification provision.
"There are two separate bodies, and each has to act in its own way," Miller said. "We've taken our battle flags and stuck them in the ground and said here we stand."
Delegates complained today that Miller has rudely rebuffed their efforts this week to reach a compromise on parental notification. The bill that passed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Tuesday specifies that girls under the age of 18 must, in many cases, notify a parent before having a legal abortion. Notification would not be required if a physician decided it would not be in the minor's best interest.
Abortion-rights leaders in the House, who object to any parental notification requirement, had wanted to talk with Miller about requiring only girls under 16 to give parental notice. But Miller refused to discuss the idea.
"We really regret this. We had hoped to meet with them, to solidify things, to come up with a legitimate bill that represented" abortion-rights people in both houses, Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg (D-Baltimore) said.
But with the Senate today deferring action on its bill to allow antiabortion senators to draft restrictive amendments, Miller said he could not afford to begin discussing possible changes with the House.
"It's like Iraq. It's difficult to discuss your tactics and strategies when bombs are going off all around you," Miller said.
Since last year's ill-tempered eight-day Senate filibuster that thwarted abortion-rights legislation, Miller has taken a high-profile role in pushing for an abortion-rights measure that he says must include a parental notification clause to draw enough support to pass.
Meanwhile, delegates said they fear that if the House passes an abortion-rights bill substantially different from the Senate's, the result could be another Senate filibuster.
Miller may not be able to "control debate if the bill comes back stripped of parental notification," said House Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole. "There's a realization that this ultimately could be the undoing of an abortion-rights bill."
Del. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) said he thinks "the votes are there in the House to lower the cutoff age for notification."
Poole said the votes for a bill stripped of any parental notification provision "could be there, but it's real fluid."
Miller said he will permit extended discussion tomorrow on antiabortion amendments as a courtesy to the new senators who oppose abortion.
Miller would not say how long he would allow the Senate to debate before voting but that a final vote next week is possible. He did not rule out meeting over the weekend.
"I want to give it the fullest possible debate," he said.
Meanwhile, abortion opponents in the Senate, who said privately that they will probably not filibuster, crafted their amendments.
Sen. Habern Freeman (D-Harford) said his amendment would strike a provision that would allow abortion referral services, which he said amount to "kickbacks and finder's fees."
"I find that extremely distasteful," Freeman said.
Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County) said he will try to strike a provision that would protect from liability physicians who perform abortions.
Other amendments that might be introduced include one to prohibit medical clinics that provide abortions from advertising and another to outlaw sex-selection abortions.