ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 13 -- A House of Delegates committee today approved a Senate-passed bill aimed at keeping abortion legal in Maryland, setting the stage for a possible final House vote Friday.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer declined to say whether he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk, but he took a strong stand in favor of abortion rights during his reelection campaign last fall.
In passing the bill on a 17 to 6 vote, the Environmental Matters Committee rejected all attempts to amend the proposal, which would impose no restrictions on early-term abortions for adults but would require that parents of minors be notified in some cases.
After the vote, key abortion-rights groups said they will no longer resist the proposal's parental notification requirement.
"Any attempt on the floor to amend it would result in chaos and probably the loss of the bill," said Karyn Strickler, executive director of the Maryland chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
But at least one abortion-rights supporter, Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery), said he will try to strip the bill of its notification section. "Many of us believe it's a step backward," Franchot said, adding that many abortion-rights supporters are going along with the bill reluctantly.
The committee defeated nine proposed amendments today during a 2 1/2-hour meeting. Most of the amendments sought to further restrict abortion, either by requiring parental consent for girls under age 18, banning sex-selection abortions or restricting referrals.
Among those voting against the bill was Del. Jean W. Roesser (R-Montgomery), who ran for reelection as an abortion-rights candidate. "I do not oppose unrestricted abortion up to viability," Roesser said, "but this has far too many loopholes" allowing later-term abortions.
Antiabortion groups also attacked the bill. "The whole thing is anti-woman and anti-family," said Pat Kelly, a lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference. "It's radical in the extreme. Parental notice is a sham."
Although the focus of much debate this year has been on the parental notification requirement, it is a loose provision, allowing doctors to forgo notice if they decide it is not in the minor's best interest.
Nevertheless, a group of high school and college students planned to demonstrate here Thursday morning to oppose any notification clause.
The bill is intended by supporters to keep abortion generally available in case the Supreme Court overturns its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which guranteed the right to abortions. As long as Roe is in effect, the only impact of the Senate-passed bill becoming law would be to require that one parent of a minor be notified when she sought an abortion in Maryland.
Looking ahead to Friday's expected vote in the House, abortion-rights leaders said they expect further attempts by antiabortion legislators to attach restricting amendments or defeat the bill altogether.
"Today's vote solidifies our significant majority in both houses," said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), an abortion-rights leader. "Any amendment is offered with the design to kill the bill."
Del. Lawrence A. LaMotte (D-Baltimore County) predicted that the bill will be approved in the House without amendments and sent to the governor.