An article in the March 7 Metro section incorrectly stated Maryland Del. Charles R. Boutin's position on a bill toughening parental-notification requirements for minors seeking abortions. Boutin (R-Harford) supports the bill. (Published 3/11/03)

A bill that would make it tougher for minors to seek abortions without notifying a parent received its first public debate in the Maryland House of Delegates yesterday.

The measure, sponsored by Del. Carmen Amedori (R-Carroll), assistant minority leader, would bar physicians from performing abortions on unmarried minors without first telling a parent or guardian. The notification requirement could be waived if a judge rules that the girl would face physical or emotional abuse if she told her parents.

Current state law, passed by a referendum in 1992, also requires parental notification, but gives the physician the option of not informing parents if the physician believes that it is in the best interests of the girl.

Supporters of the new bill told the House Health and Government Matters Committee that putting the decision in the doctor's hands presented a conflict of interest, because any doctor who terminates pregnancies stands to profit from making abortions easier for a young woman. The best person to give advice on an abortion, they said, is the girl's parent.

"The current law is not protecting kids," said Nancy E. Fortier, an associate director with the Maryland Catholic Conference, which opposes abortion. She cited examples of girls coming to Maryland from out of state because parental notification was easily bypassed. "It's common knowledge that our parental notice law does not work," she said.

Proponents also said that 32 states have passed laws similar to the one proposed for Maryland. The Virginia General Assembly passed a law last month requiring parental consent.

Opponents said new legislation was unnecessary because most girls who want to end their pregnancies tell their parents. Those who don't, they said, have a real need for privacy.

"The vast majority have already involved their parents," said Carole M. Meyers, a medical director for the Maryland chapter of Planned Parenthood, which supports abortion rights. "I don't take this responsibility lightly." She said that about 80 percent come to the organization's clinics with a parent; perhaps 10 percent, she said, decide they can't tell their parents.

Other opponents argued that making a girl go through the legal system to bypass telling her parents was an "undue burden" on those seeking abortion.

Although many of the bill's supporters oppose abortion, they took pains yesterday to say the measure was not an attack on abortion rights. "This bill does not restrict abortion," said David Lam, director of Maryland Right to Life. "This bill involves parents in the decision of a minor."

Abortion opponents were being cautious because the bill has been carefully calibrated to gain the support of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who has remained quiet on the issue. Ehrlich's spokesman, Paul E. Schurick, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Ehrlich's recent election, coming after decades of Democratic leadership, has nevertheless given new impetus to activists who see a more favorable political environment for new restrictions.

"I wouldn't want one of my children to have it done without my notification and guidance," said Del. Robert A. Costa (R-Anne Arundel). "If our children have to get a parent's permission to have an aspirin in school, how can surgery be done without notification?"

On the other side of the packed hearing room, Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-Howard) disagreed. "It's in the law through referendum, and there's no reason to change what the citizens of Maryland have decided," she said, calling the court waiver process "long, complicated, burdensome, expensive and unnecessary."

Del. Charles R. Boutin, a Republican who represents Cecil and Harford counties, said he opposes the bill, but he said he could respect those on the other side. "These are personal judgments," he said, "and you just have to make them."

Staff writer Jo Becker contributed to this report.