ANNAPOLIS – The state abortion battle hit a Senate committee Wednesday with testimony on three bills aimed at restricting a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
Abortion was not supposed to be a dominant issue for foes in the General Assembly this year. Anti-abortion lawmakers decided to leave decisions on issues such as the safety of the abortion pill RU-486 and late-term abortions to the federal government.
Yet abortion opponents did pick off three key issues: parental notification, waiting periods and mandatory reporting requirements.
All three measures were heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Wednesday, but the bill to tighten Maryland’s current parental consent law received the most attention.
State law has required parental notification for a minor seeking an abortion since 1992, but a doctor may waive notice if the minor is mature and capable of giving informed consent or if the notice would lead to child abuse.
Sen. J. Robert Hooper’s, R-Harford, bill would impose a 48-hour waiting period on a minor seeking an abortion, beginning after parental notification. It also eliminates the physician bypass, requiring a girl go to court for a judicial waiver.
“The young lady (under 18) is not allowed to get married, can’t buy cigarettes or alcohol and can’t join the military without parental consent,” said Hooper. “They’re still in school. They can’t even take an aspirin without written permission.”
But the fear of telling their parents can too often mean a pregnant girl waits too long for an abortion, opponents argue. Later term abortions are more complicated, more expensive and have higher medical risks, they said.
In Minnesota, since enactment of a parental notification with judicial bypass law, second-trimester abortions among minors increased by 18 percent, according to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
More than 50 percent of minors already consult their parents about their pregnancy, according to Marylanders for the Right to Choose, which opposes the bill. That number increases to nearly 80 percent when the minor is under age 15.
“In a perfect world, all pregnant and troubled teen-agers would feel comfortable discussing their options,” said Wendy Royalty, the organization’s chairwoman, in written testimony. “However, in the most imperfect world, many young girls would rather flee, deny their pregnancy and/or endanger their own lives by seeking back-alley abortions.”
A Mason-Dixon Polling and Research survey last year found that 67 percent of Marylanders opposed “giving the doctor the authority to avoid notifying a parent of a minor child who seeks an abortion.”
“I abhor the fact that a 13-year-old pregnant girl can be taken from school, be driven to an abortion clinic, be given an abortion, be returned to school and be at home with her family all on the same day — with her parents knowing nothing about it,” said Sidney Marcus III of Waldorf. Marcus, a concerned parent, testified at the hearing.
Less controversial is the measure, introduced by Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R- Harford, to require doctors to provide women seeking an abortion with information about the procedure, its physical and emotional side effects and about alternative choices, 24 hours before the procedure.
Jacobs said 38 states have some form of an informed consent law.
“This bill is giving women the power to choose,” said Jacobs. “It provides them with information to empower them to make an informed decision. This bill lays out fully the options for women.”
The last bill, to require collection of aggregate data about abortions in Maryland, was sponsored by one of the General Assembly’s most ardent abortion foes, Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll.
The collection of data in Maryland is done voluntarily.
“I think it (abortion) is the only medical procedure in the state where statistics are not reported,” said Haines.
NARAL said it believes the bill invades a woman’s privacy because her age, race, marital status, number of prior pregnancies and abortions and her reasons for wanting an abortion would be reported to the state health department. However, Haines said the bill provides for patient and information confidentiality.
Committee members remained quiet during the testimony. One of their few comments came from Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery: “Is there a waiting period for vasectomies?” she asked. “We’re focusing too much on women here. What about men?”