Poor women in Maryland will continue to receive state aid for nontherapeutic abortions at least for the next eight months, Maryland Health Secretary, Dr. Neil Solomon announced yesterday.
Solomon said the General Assembly should decide at its upcoming session whether Maryland will continue using state Medicaid funds to finance elective abortions after this fiscal year ends June 30.
Solomon's decision came a day after Maryland's attorney general ruled that the health secretary will have to draft regulations if he intends to continue funding of abortions, other than those procedures needed to protect the health of the mother.
Attorney General Francis B. Burch's ruling thus placed the responsibility for deciding the politically volatile abortion issue on the administration of action Gov. Blair Lee, Ill. one of Burch's opponents in the Democratic race for governor.
Solomon said he discussed Burch's ruling with Lee, who agreed with the drafting of regulations that would allow for state financing of all abortions for the rest of the fiscal year.
"This is a major policy question and Neil Solomon has some ideas," Solomon said in an interview. "But I have to be guided by what the public really wants and I think the General Assembly is the best place for that."
By asking the General Assembly to grapple with the question, the Lee administration both avoids responsibility for the final decision and assures that the issue of state funding of abortions will be a hot topic at the coming session.
State Del. Leo E. Green (D-Prince Georges County) has filed a bill that would stop Maryland from financing nontherapeutic abortions, or surgical procedures sought for reasons other than the health of the patient.
Lee was not available for comment yesterday. When the federal government cut off funds for abortions, he said he thought the General Assembly would have to resolve the issue. Asked for his own position then, he said, "I would hate to see Maryland get into the position where there is one rule for rich women and another one for poor women."
In the fiscal year ending last June 30, Maryland spent $1.4 million in state and U.S. funds to cover the cost of abortion services for 6,000 Medicaid recipients. About half of the moeny came from the federal government.
John J. Kent Jr., the assistant health secretary in charge of the state's Medicaid program, said the health department will spend an additional $700,000 in state funds to provide abortions for the rest of this year in the absence of federal aid.
Maryland Attorney General Francis B. Burch was asked for the opinion after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that state and local governments do not have to use Medicaid funds to pay for abortions.