ANNAPOLIS – Although its opposition was not unanimous, leaders of the Women Legislators of Maryland consider the defeat of a bill to ban partial birth abortions one of their proudest accomplishments this session.
“We had some really good wins this time,” said Delegate Sue Hecht, D- Frederick, first vice-president of the caucus. “We were able to maintain full reproductive rights for women.”
The Senate approved the legislation after 1998 elections produced a more conservative body there, but the House rejected the bill. In both houses and in the women’s caucus the measure was a controversial one.
The nine senators and 46 delegates in the women’s caucus who usually move unanimously on issues did not do so this time. Instead, they opposed the bill after taking a caucus vote.
“It was a simple majority vote,” said Delegate Adrienne Mandel, D- Montgomery, co-chair of the caucus’ Legislative Committee. “As a group, we opposed the partial birth abortion ban, and we were successful in getting the General Assembly to oppose it.”
The caucus did unanimously support a bill protecting domestic violence victims in dating relationships by allowing them to apply for a restraining order.
When the House Judiciary Committee reviewed the bill, the panel expanded it to include all individuals who feel threatened by certain acts, like harassing phone calls and mail. The bill became known as the “Peace Order Bill.”
“The Judiciary Committee expanded the domestic violence dating bill enormously to include much, much more,” Hecht said.
The women’s group typically focuses on a range of issues, including substance abuse and treatment, women and children’s health, gender bias, reproductive rights, domestic violence, women in prison and economic empowerment.
For each issue tackled, the group issues position statements. They lobby more forcefully for issues they feel might be overlooked without their direct attention.
The women’s caucus claimed victory for several other measures this session, including bills requiring insurers to cover the costs of annual chlamydia screening tests and providing for universal newborn hearing screening. But the General Assembly rejected several other health bills that Mandel said are just as important.
For example, the Judiciary Committee rejected a bill to make it a misdemeanor for health practitioners, police officers, educators or human service workers to knowingly fail to report suspected child abuse or neglect. And, the Environment and Economic Matters Committee rejected a bill to require businesses to apply for permission to use pesticides near child-care facilities. “Health issues are one of our top priorities,” Mandel said. “I think it takes many years of education and explanation to get some of them passed, particularly issues that go beyond strict legal interpretation.” The women legislators said they would continue to fight for the issues they lost this year. While they did not commit to any specific issues for next year, Mandel said she expects many of their losses this year to reappear on their agenda next year. “It takes a while to get things passed sometimes,” she said.