Abortion debate turns to parental notice

January 11, 1991|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The most intense abortion debate in Annapolis so far this year is not between the usual supporters and opponents. It's simmering within the abortion-rights movement as some legislators and advocate groups disagree over what shape their legislation will take.

The arguments are centering on the issue of parental notice: Should a parent be told before a girl has an abortion?

The question has provoked hard-fought battles in other states. Anti-abortion groups say the measure is a necessity. Abortion-rights activists say such clauses sound good but unfairly restrict a teen-ager's rights and could force girls to seek dangerous, illegal abortions. They say they'll rally to kill any such measure.

Yesterday, the activists held an emotional news conference featuring Bill and Karen Bell of Indianapolis, who became crusaders against parental-notice laws after their 17-year-old daughter died in 1988 of a botched abortion.

Because the law in Indiana would have required her to have her a parent's consent before she had an abortion, Becky Bell sought an illegal abortion to spare her parents. She died of a massive infection a week later.

"I think we stand here as living proof that these laws don't work," Mr. Bell said, with a portrait of his blond daughter at his side.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, is one of the legislators who believes that a parental-notice clause greatly improves an abortion-rights bill's chances for passage. He would grant exceptions for girls who fear parental abuse or for girls a doctor deems mature enough to make a decision on her own.

He said he expects Senate leaders to introduce such a measur soon. The advocate groups -- such as the Maryland affiliate of the National Abortion Rights Action League, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women -- say they'll instead support only "clean" bills -- ones without any restrictions on minors.

Meanwhile, some legislators in the House and Senate -- despite Mr. Miller's position -- are betting that parental-notice clauses are not necessary to win legislative approval.

Last night, a group of abortion-rights delegates met to count potential votes and decided they have enough support to push for House passage of a bill free of any parental-notice provisions.

"You cannot legislate good family communications," said Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, a leader of the abortion-rights forces in the House. He and Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, said they expect their measure to be introduced within 10 days, with a joint Senate-House hearing to be held before the month ends.

"It's just unacceptable," said Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery, of parental-notice bills. "A lot of us won't vote for a bill if [a parental-notice clause] is in there. It's a superficially appealing idea that has devastating impact on women's lives."

Meanwhile, a group of senators led by Clarence Blount, D-Baltimore, and F. Vernon Boozer, R-Baltimore County, submitted yesterday a similar bill, meant to preserve abortion rights without restrictions for minors.

While the abortion-rights activists debate among themselves, anti-abortion groups seem to be waiting quietly. Patricia Kelly of the Maryland Catholic Conference has said her group has not yet firmed up its strategy. No legislative opponents have

yet introduced any bills meant to restrict abortions.

Delegate Franchot predicted abortion opponents would not launch their own anti-abortion fight this year. Instead, he said, he expects to see "guerrilla warfare," with abortion opponents working to add restrictive amendments to the bills sponsored by advocates of abortion rights.

Today in Annapolis

10 a.m.--Senate Convenes, state house.

11 a.m.--House convenes, State House.

1 p.m.-- House Environmental Matters Committee briefing on a variety of environmental issues, including vehicle emissions and recommendations of the governor's commission on growth, room 160, House office Building.

There are 87 days remaining in the 1991 General Assembly session.

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