ANNAPOLIS – Maryland legislators are expected to reopen the abortion debate during the coming General Assembly session, particularly focusing on the recent approval of the abortion drug mifepristone.
Many pro-life bills will be showing up this session including a partial- birth abortion ban bill and a more restrictive parental notification bill, which would prohibit doctors from performing abortions on minors until 48 hours after the doctor gives written notice to the minor’s parent or guardian.
Abortion rights groups are gearing up to protect and possibly expand abortion rights in Maryland, while trying to assure that mifepristone, also called RU486, is not treated more strictly than surgical abortion.
“We can expect a host of tactics from anti-choice legislators who are trying to reduce women’s reproductive rights,” said Nancy Lineman, Maryland National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League executive director. “If legislators are going after mifepristone, we are not going to take it lightly. It’s pretty much going after all abortions.”
Legislatures across the country will be deciding whether regulation and distribution of mifepristone could be controlled by changes in the language of their abortion statutes.
“From our perspective we’d be better off trying to pass informed consent legislation,” said Lam, where information about mifepristone, including alternatives, risks and dangers, would be distributed to women before they choose abortion.
Maryland lawmakers will not concentrate solely on mifepristone with abortion legislation during the session that begins Jan. 10. Pro-life force Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, will reintroduce his partial-birth abortion ban bill, despite a Supreme Court ruling last year that found a Nebraska partial-birth abortion ban unconstitutional.
Harford Republican Sen. Bob Hooper’s parental notification bill takes the current law, which allows doctors to perform abortions on minors without prior parental consent in certain situations, to a stricter level. The current law should be called “abortionist consent,” Lam said, while Hooper’s proposal would earn the title of parental consent.
Not all abortion-related legislation this session will be divided along pro-life, pro-choice lines.
Maryland Right to Life and Marylanders for a Right to Choose are both supporting legislation providing for a safe haven where women who have gone through unwanted pregnancies can leave their newborns, no questions asked.
“It’s probably one issue we can agree on,” said Lam.
A safe haven bill was filed Wednesday by Sen. Andrew P. Harris, R- Baltimore County.
At least one of Harris’ colleagues isn’t buying into the cooperation.
“I would be very cautious and suspicious of legislation if it’s legislation that is sponsored by those individuals who have been very, very pro- abortion in the past,” said Haines.
Delegates Sharon M. Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, and Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, are working up similar safe haven bills on the House side and may decide to combine their efforts, said Grosfeld.
The safe haven bill would find safe harbor on the floor, if it gets through the committee it’s assigned, said Harris. “I think there’s consensus from a wide variety of people who normally don’t think similarly on some issues,” Harris said.
Pro-choice advocates feel the same way.
“This legislation is designed to help make sure that women who do give birth have an option of giving their newborns up and not face criminal penalties. But it doesn’t solve the problem,” said Lineman.
“What really solves all of our problems is preventing unintended pregnancy in the first place,” said Lineman.
The final abortion battle will be fought over funding: money for education and prevention; money for abortions for low-income women.
Pro-choice groups including Marylanders for a Right to Choose are interested in increasing family planning funds in Maryland, said Lineman.
And, as the Legislature plans to address expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover low-income parents of eligible children, Lam said his group will continue to fight against using that program to fund abortion.
“Whether it’s in the bill or not, it would be a floor fight,” said Cheryl C. Kagan, D-Montgomery. “I think (abortion) needs to be covered just the same way vaccinations for chicken pox need to be covered.”