ANNAPOLIS – A Carroll County senator plans to introduce an abortion bill during the 1999 legislative session that leaders worry could tie the chamber in knots.
Republican Sen. Larry Haines said he will sponsor a measure that would ban some late-term, or “partial-birth,” abortions.
But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he does not want the issue, which sparked a graphic debate last year, to consume the chamber in a protracted debate in the session beginning in January.
“If he wants to introduce the bill and he has the votes, then we’ll take it up,” said Miller, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “I want both sides to have an opportunity to be heard.”
But, Miller added, “I wouldn’t want this issue to tie up the Senate for the next four years.”
It would take 24 votes to pass a bill in the 47-member chamber, if all senators are present.
But it would take a supermajority vote of 32 senators to break a protracted debate, or filibuster, if members opposing the bill take that stalling tactic.
A few changes to the Senate’s makeup made by voters in the fall elections may have given the bill the 24 votes needed for passage, Haines said. “This is the first session of a new term, and I think now is the time to introduce it.”
But he does not claim to have the support of 32 members.
Two new Republican senators, Andrew Harris of Baltimore County and Alexander Mooney of Frederick County, said they would support the bill. They are replacing two moderate Republican leaders who had opposed the proposal in previous years.
Haines said he also had gotten assurances of support from some Democratic senators, and added he believes the bill also has the support to pass the House.
Some House leaders are skeptical.
“I would never presume to count the votes in the Senate, so Larry Haines shouldn’t count votes in the House,” said House Majority Leader John Hurson, D-Montgomery County. “He hasn’t gotten the bill through the Senate yet, so maybe he should concentrate on that.”
The Haines bill has a stormy history. The measure would ban an abortion procedure used in the last months of pregnancy, unless needed to save the mother’s life.
The bill never has been approved or rejected on its merits on the Senate floor. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved the measure in 1996, but didn’t vote on it again until 1998.
After passing the Senate committee last session, the bill died when the full Senate voted 26-21 to return it to committee, rather than vote on its substance.
The House hasn’t considered a late-term abortion ban since 1996, when its Environmental Matters Committee killed a similar bill.
Haines and his supporters say partial-birth abortions are needlessly cruel and that some women who get them don’t need them.
Abortion-rights groups say the Haines bill is unneeded. They say a 1992 law already stops women from having abortions after the fetus can live outside the womb, unless the procedure would save their lives or protect their health.
The abortion-rights groups say the Haines proposal is a vaguely worded attempt to outlaw all abortions in Maryland.
There are no reliable statistics about abortion in Maryland, particularly late-term abortions, because doctors are not required to report the number they perform.
Nationally, about 650 of the 1.4 million abortions performed in 1996 were partial-birth abortions, according to a recent study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research wing of Planned Parenthood.
Despite Haines’ confidence of the bill’s chances next session, his staunchest opponents aren’t so sure. “Maybe it will only partially come up,” laughed Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County. “Maybe it will come up in the third trimester of our 90 days.” -30-