ANNAPOLIS – A bill to ban partial-birth abortions passed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee easily Friday and was sent to the full Senate, where pro-choice advocates predicted a harsher reception.
“I’ve heard some senators say they’re ready to filibuster until the cows come home,” said Karyn Strickler, a lobbyist for the Maryland affiliate of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
“This committee was stacked with anti-choice people, so it’s no surprise to us that this passed,” Strickler said of the 8-3 vote.
But she said the upcoming vote by the full Senate could go “one vote, one way or the other.” The bill is likely to be reported to the full Senate on Tuesday or Wednesday, but a vote might not come for days after that.
If there are not enough votes to kill the bill on the Senate floor, Strickler contends its foes have enough votes to sustain a filibuster.
Two-thirds of Senate’s 47 members — a total of 32 — are needed to block a filibuster. Strickler does not think the bill’s supporters can muster that number.
David Lam, executive director of Maryland Right to Life, declined to estimate vote totals for his side, except to say that he expects a close vote as well.
“We hope the entire Senate accepts the recommendation of this committee, which carefully considered all of the information from both sides,” said Lam.
He noted that such bans have been endorsed by the American Medical Association and passed by Congress, although President Clinton vetoed the federal ban on partial-birth abortions.
The bill would make it a crime to deliver “a living fetus vaginally before killing the fetus and completing the delivery,” except to save the life of the mother. It would also penalize doctors who perform such abortions, which pro-choice groups insist are rarely used.
The bill passed the committee by a wider-than-expected margin, after members defeated a last-minute amendment that could have made the bill too extreme for many lawmakers.
The amendment, offered by committee chairman Sen. Walter Baker, D-Cecil, would have defined a “living fetus” as “a fetus from conception to delivery.”
Sen. Larry Haines, D-Carroll, and the primary sponsor of the ban, immediately charged Baker with “trying to abort the guts out of the bill.”
Haines, a real estate agent when the General Assembly is not in session, said he consulted a medical dictionary, which said that a pregnancy does not produce a fetus until after nine weeks, invalidating Baker’s amendment.
If passed, the amendment could have posed a dilemma for pro- life lawmakers: While they support an absolute abortion ban, they still need the votes of pro-choice lawmakers to pass the partial birth bill. But pro-choice senators would likely have been scared off by the stronger wording in Baker’s amendment.
That may have been the purpose of Baker’s ploy. Performing before a small gaggle of TV cameras after his amendment failed, Baker said, “I do not believe that there is such a thing as a partial-birth abortion.”