ANNAPOLIS – Maryland spent at least four times more on abortions in 1996 than all of its neighbors combined, according to figures supplied by state and Washington, D.C., health officials.
Maryland paid $2 million in 1996 for nearly 2,600 state- funded abortions. Pennsylvania, by contrast, spent $41,559.18 for 54 abortions in fiscal 1996 while Virginia officials estimate they paid for about 100 procedures at about $1,000 each.
Such numbers are likely to be in the spotlight this week as a General Assembly conference committee decides whether state- funded abortions will be included in a bill to expand the number of families eligible for Medicaid benefits in Maryland.
Both chambers have passed bills to expand Medicaid eligibility to include families earning up to twice the poverty level. But while the Senate would extend state-funded abortions to those newly eligible residents, the House would not.
“We’re talking about abortions for kids under 19. There is no need for this,” said Del. Thomas Dewberry, D-Baltimore County.
But Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, said the very fact that some Medicaid recipients are children is all the more reason to help them pay for an abortion when needed. They often are not prepared to become parents, she said.
“Understand that `just say no’ [to sex] is wonderful, but not every kid is going to `just say no,'” said Hollinger, adding that girls who have an unwanted pregnancy should be helped, not rebuked.
Federal funds pay for abortions in instances of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is endangered. Maryland, with its own money, also pays for a poor woman’s abortion if her pregnancy could be harmful to her mental health.
Critics have called the mental health clause a “loophole” through which any abortions will qualify for state funds. Of the 2,575 abortions the state paid for in 1996, about 98 percent, or 2,536 abortions, were performed for mental health reasons.
“Maryland’s abortion record is already the shame of the Mid- Atlantic states. It is outrageous that the General Assembly has decided to increase the number of abortions paid for with our tax dollars,” said David Lam, executive director of Maryland Right to Life.
But pro-choice groups argue that the mental health clause is needed to help women who would otherwise be denied their reproductive rights.
“The bottom line of Medicaid funding is that low-income people should not have a lower standard of access to abortions,” said Karyn Strickler, a lobbyist for the Maryland affiliate of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
“They should have the same access to abortions as higher- income people. To do otherwise would be shameful,” she said.
Virginia funds abortions in cases of rape, incest and when the physical, emotional and psychological health of the mother is endangered. “Familial” circumstances and the women’s age can also be taken into account there.
But Virginia officials could not say why Virginia’s state- funded abortion numbers are so low in comparison to Maryland’s.
“I really couldn’t speculate. We really don’t know,” said Cynthia Morton, a Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services spokeswoman.
While its regulations mirror Virginia’s, West Virginia paid for significantly more abortions. In 1996, West Virginia paid $211,273 for 619 abortions, according to Jack Frazier, director of the Office of Regulatory Technical Assistance and Alternative Health Care.
By contrast, Pennsylvania and Delaware have some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, allowing state funding only when the life of the mother is endangered or in cases of rape or incest.
Of the 54 abortions Pennsylvania funded in fiscal 1996, 42 were performed to save the mother’s life, said George Yanoshik Jr., a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.
In Delaware, where 81 percent of the Medicaid recipients are covered by health maintenance organizations, state officials could not estimate how much state money went toward abortions.
But Delaware HMOs paid for only 27 abortions for Medicaid recipients in fiscal 1996 and the state paid for only four directly, said Jack Holloway, an official in the state’s Division of Social Services.
Washington, D.C., will pay for any abortion, regardless of the reason — but only as long as city funding holds out. As with the states, the district can rely on federal funding to pay for Medicaid abortions only in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger.
The city pays for other abortions through its Medical Charities program. To become eligible, however, low-income district residents must first go through a counseling process, said Sandra Hagen, program analyst in the D.C. medical assistance administration.
The district spent $25,416 on 90 abortions in fiscal 1996, Hagen said.
Whatever the cost of expanded Medicaid abortion availability in Maryland, pro-choice groups said it would be worth it. Strickler also said that adolescents will continue having abortions with or without state help.
“If a young woman needs an abortion, she needs access to an abortion, because the alternative is to self-abort and injure themselves,” she said.
Lam said the cost is measured in more than dollars, however.
“We hope Maryland taxpayers hold legislators responsible for this irresponsible and offensive use of tax dollars to kill unborn children,” he said.