ANNAPOLIS – Senate committee members interrogated a lawmaker in a hearing Wednesday, pushing the senator to admit that her bill calling for regulation of abortion clinics exceeds the realm of licensing and regulation.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel, would include abortion clinics in the list of ambulatory care facilities required to be regulated by the state.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has had the power to regulate the clinics since 1992, but has chosen not to use it, said Greenip.
“We license and regulate veterinary clinics, but not abortion. Surely the health of Maryland’s women is as important as our pets?” Greenip said in her testimony before the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee.
The bill would require doctors to screen abortion patients for 13 risk factors before the procedure and then inform patients about any potential adverse reactions they may cause, as well as quantifiable risk rates.
“Have any of these been scientifically demonstrated to be ‘risk factors’?” asked Sen. Sharon M. Grosfeld, D-Montgomery. The list includes physical factors, as well as emotional problems such as feelings of being pressured to have an abortion, religious or moral convictions against abortion, emotional attachment to the unborn child and lack of support from a partner or parents.
While a witness testified that the bill’s required screening for gonorrhea and Chlamydia infection was medically sound, Greenip couldn’t tell the committee where her list of factors came from.
“What I must say, in all the medical literature that I have ever read,” said Committee Chairwoman Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a nurse, “is that it is a lot riskier to carry a pregnancy to term (than to have an abortion).”
Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat, said she didn’t think the bill presented all the facts or gave women credit for having thought about such a difficult decision before seeking an abortion.
Playing devil’s advocate, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, asked why women are not screened for psychological risk factors before giving birth, with the threat of having their child taken away if they demonstrate emotional risks that might result in bad parenting.
Pinsky noted that checking for physical risks such as gonorrhea could be included in the standard of care for abortion procedures, rather than in separate statute.
The bill also includes a waiting clause – performing an abortion within 24 hours of patients’ receiving the information opens the doctor to a lawsuit.
When the clause came under fire, Greenip said doctors had the choice on whether to wait.
“I don’t understand that it’s a choice if it’s a per-se lawsuit against the physician. How is that a choice?” said Grosfeld.
The legislation was heard jointly with a bill proposed by Sen. Andrew P. Harris, R-Baltimore County, which would include doctors’ offices and clinics under the heading of surgical facilities.
Harris said his bill deals with credentialing and peer review, qualifications of physicians and staff, emergency procedures, quality control of biomedical substances and post-operative recovery and discharge procedures.
Failing to classify clinics performing abortions as surgical facilities is wrong, Harris said. Such facilities do employ cutting instruments, the legal standard for classification.
The senator brandished a long metal uterine curette, which he said is used in abortions and which he said is sharp enough to cut sausage. Use of dangerous instruments like these merit regulation as a surgical facility, he said.
Dr. Paul H. McCauley, a Silver Spring obstetrician-gynecologist, agreed that the instruments were cutting tools. He said he had seen situations where the instrument had punctured the uterus and sliced a woman’s intestines.