ANNAPOLIS – Proponents of a Maryland House bill requiring an 18-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion say it is not a pro-life bill, but opponents call it a “flimsy smokescreen” to take away a woman’s right to choose.
“It doesn’t bar abortions, said Delegate Diane DeCarlo, D-Baltimore, who is pro-life, as are most of her 17 co-sponsors. It’s about making an informed decision, she said.
The “Women’s Health Protection Act” would require a woman to wait 18 hours before an abortion after receiving materials that describe the “unborn child,” list agencies offering alternatives to abortion and note available medical assistance for prenatal care, childbirth and neonatal care.
The materials also would inform the woman the father is responsible for child support.
“Eighteen hours doesn’t seem like a short time or a long time for a woman to wait (to decide),” DeCarlo said, considering abortion counselors told lawmakers they only spend 20 minutes with a woman prior to the abortion.
“Twenty minutes isn’t enough time, especially if it’s her first (abortion),” she said.
Opponents, she said, are making this an abortion bill and, “It’s not.”
But, “intuition” tells her the bill will die, DeCarlo said.
“My feeling is it’s not going to even make it out of the drawer” of the Environmental Matters Committee, which is what happened to a similar bill last year.
Both sides of the debate at the hearing questioned the other’s motives.
“Planned Parenthood opposes it (the bill), because they’re pro-abortion, because they profit from it,” said Nancy E. Fortier, associate director of Justice, Pro-life and Human Rights of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
Planned Parenthood does oppose the bill, because it’s “bias counseling,” not medically necessary information, said Medical Director Carole Meyers of Planned Parenthood of Maryland Inc.
Other opponents said the bill clearly singles out abortions from other comprehensive reproductive health services and procedures, and that makes them suspect of the bill’s intent.
“Maryland law already requires informed consent for abortions and other medical procedures,” according to written testimony from the Governor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families.
Opponents are also concerned about the risk of delay to a woman, because many clinics perform abortions only two or three days a week and have waiting lists.
A delay could compel a woman to undergo a later abortion, increasing risks to her health, according to written testimony from The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.
The bill, the diocesan testimony said, “might better be named the Women’s Health Endangerment Act.”
It also insults women by suggesting women “make the decision lightly,” said Ann Ciekot, lobbyist for the Maryland National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
“It’s not an insult,” said David Lam of Maryland Right to Life, “but an affirmation by giving information to women to make an informed decision.”
“(The bill) provides a little breathing space and good information to think the process through before making it irrevocable,” said the Rev. Blair Paul Raum of Project Rachel, an organization that counsels men and women who regret their abortion decision.
Of the 18 sponsors only one, Delegate Nancy Hubers, D-Baltimore, said she is pro-choice. Women need to have the information before making a decision, she said.
Several sponsors said they wouldn’t support abortion under any circumstances, but most said it would be acceptable for rape, incest and to save the mother.
Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, withdrew his name as a co-sponsor when he understood what the bill does, he said, because “I’m pro-choice.”