ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland General Assembly will likely take a pass this year on the controversial issue of partial-birth abortion, choosing to let the abortion battle play out in the Supreme Court and on the other side of the Potomac River.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, asked lawmakers not to address the issue in 2000, but to wait for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that should come this summer. Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll, a longtime opponent of the procedure, agreed to delay another attempt to ban it.
“I have taken the leadership’s request to wait,” Haines said.
Haines has sponsored bills in the last few years to ban physicians from performing partial-birth abortions unless necessary to save the life of the mother. In 1999, his bill passed the Senate but was narrowly defeated in the House, 68-70.
Last year’s debate was brutal, according to Raquel Guillory, deputy press secretary for Gov. Parris Glendening.
“At least we won’t be subjected to this kind of controversy on the floor again this year,” Guillory said.
Glendening supports a woman’s right to choose, Guillory said, and the prospect of an abortion-debate-free session is “welcome news.”
The controversy concerns Haines’ bill prohibiting a “partial-birth” abortion after the 16th week of gestation. While the term “partial-birth abortion” has no legal or medical definition, it is generally assumed to mean the procedure of dilation and extraction, according to the federal court ruling under challenge in the Supreme Court. The fetus is partially delivered, according to the ruling, at which time the doctor removes the brain and the fetus dies.
Thirty states ban the procedure, however lawsuits have prevented enforcement in many states, according to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear one of these cases – the first time the high court is expected to make a major ruling on abortion since 1992.
The Supreme Court case concerns a Nebraska law prohibiting “partial-birth abortion…performed in the state, unless such procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury.”
Dr. LeRoy Carhart, a family medical practitioner with an abortion clinic in Bellevue, Neb., challenged the law saying it placed an undue burden on women seeking abortion. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September affirmed a lower court ruling declaring the law unconstitutional.
David Lam, executive director of the Maryland Right to Life Foundation, said Maryland’s inaction concerns him.
“We’re disappointed that another year goes by without a ban on partial- birth abortions,” Lam said.
In contrast to Maryland, Virginia expects a heated debate on abortion this session. Members of the Virginia General Assembly have sponsored legislation to require a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion. The state’s ban on partial- birth abortion also will likely be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision, expected by July. The next Maryland General Assembly session, won’t be quiet on the issue, Haines promised. He intends to propose new legislation for 2001. -30- CNS-2-3-00