ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s pro-choice advocates say they are gearing up for combat in Annapolis against anti-abortion legislation, but they may find themselves on the wrong battlefield.
State anti-abortion lawmakers have decided to let the federal government fight most of their battle.
So far, there are no bills concerning late-term abortions, the abortion drug RU486 or on fetus viability. Instead, the 2001 General Assembly will watch the self-described pro-life Bush Administration to see what changes its members implement.
One week into his presidency, Bush banned the use of federal funds for international abortion services. The president also asked Tommy Thompson, presumptive secretary of Health and Human Services, to review mifespristone or RU486, the controversial abortion pill. The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug in September.
“It’s (RU486) touted as simple and easy, but that’s not the case,” said David Lam, director of Maryland Right to Life. “We think that it’s very important that people know the risks and dangers.”
Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll, said he is not planning to reintroduce his bill banning late-term abortions, although two years ago, the bill had strong support. In 1996, a similar bill passed both houses of Congress but was vetoed by President Clinton.
President Bush has made a commitment to sign the bill if it comes up again.
“I’m pretty sure Congress will take it up,” said Haines. “My position is that with the congressional level taking the issue up it’s likely we’re going to delay it this session. I’m afraid if I introduce it, my legislators will say, `Let’s wait and see’ what Congress does.”
In fact, the main bill abortion opponents are pushing is Senate Bill 758, a parental notification bill introduced last session, to require doctors to provide parents 48 hours notice of an abortion procedure on their minor child. It also authorizes physicians to perform abortions on minors without parental consent under certain circumstances.
Minors who want to waive the parental notification must go before a judge in the Family Law Division of a circuit court.
“This is one of those bills that draws support across the aisle,” Lam said. “Even people considering themselves pro choice would say that parents ought to be involved. We hope for better results this year.”
In Maryland, the law requires at least one parent be notified within 48 hours if a minor seeks an abortion. However, physicians are given wide latitude in deciding whether parental notification is necessary.
Haines is also introducing a bill to require medical clinics to report abortions.
Maryland is one of five states with no reporting requirement. Data is reported voluntarily.
“I think all medical practices should be reported,” Haines said. “There’s a lot of risks on individuals having abortions. Without the reporting requirement, I don’t think there’s any protection for families with malpractice suits.”
One issue that may not divide pro-choice and anti-abortion legislators this session is a safe haven bill. Maryland Right to Life and Marylanders Right to Choose are supporting legislation to encourage women to leave unwanted newborns at a safe place, such as a hospital, police station or fire station, instead of in a garbage can.
Delegate Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, introduced a Safe Haven bill this week. Delegates Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, and Samuel Rosenberg, D- Baltimore, are drafting a similar bill.
“There aren’t a lot of instances where children are abandoned,” Rosenberg said. “If this bill can prevent one newborn from being left in an unsafe environment and left instead at a hospital, it’s worthwhile.”
Meanwhile, members of pro-choice organizations, such as Marylanders Right to Choose, the National Organization for Women, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, and Planned Parenthood, said they are fired up and ready to fight any anti-abortion-related issues that arise.
They gathered this week at Lawyers Mall in Annapolis for a rally commemorating the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which affirmed a woman’s right to have an abortion.
“We will be watching you Mr. Bush,” said the Rev. Victoria Weinstein, who spoke at the rally. “We will reveal and hold you accountable for all your hypocrisies at every turn. It is a shame that we’re still in a position where we have to fight against tyrants who are obsessed with controlling women.”
Suzanne Busby and Lisa Lunt, two rally protestors, said they know the real fight is in Washington. They fear federal officials will overturn several abortion rights’ policies, thus threatening Roe v. Wade.
“Fear is what brought me out here today and got me excited to fight for what I believe,” said Busby of Catonsville. “These legislators are telling us what we can do with our bodies. They’re not the ones who have to deal with the consequence.”
“I’m worried but also I’m really angry that any time there’s an election we have to worry and fight for this issue,” said Lunt, a Catonsville resident. “How many other decisions in the history of the Supreme Court have to continuously keep coming up and be defended and constantly be knocked around?”