Abortion Debate Renewed

February 01, 1991

Five hours of hearings on the abortion issue yesterday changed no minds. The subject is well known to all 188 members of the General Assembly. Every delegate and senator has taken a position. In 1991, unlike 1990, legislative leaders have made it clear the matter will be voted upon in both the House and the Senate.

Pro-abortion advocates have the upper hand. A majority of lawmakers seems committed to giving women the same right to an abortion in the initial stages of pregnancy that the Supreme Court stipulated in its Roe vs. Wade decision. But that advantage could disappear if pro-choice forces split over requiring a teen-ager to get parental consent before having an abortion.

Anti-abortion supporters insist on such a requirement. They claim it would foster communication between kids and parents and insure that minors fully understand the consequences. Yet in states that have a parental consent law, statistics show it actually worsens the problem: Teens put off seeking help and end up with later-stage abortions, which are far more dangerous; teens tend to go out of state for abortions or seek out back-alley abortionists, and the law rarely closes the communication gap.

Still, the political reality of this year's abortion battle in Maryland is that some kind of parental involvement clause is in order. Otherwise, Senate leaders don't have the votes to stop another debilitating filibuster. Nevertheless, pro-abortion advocates reject any compromise. Their intransigence may turn apparent victory into defeat.

That could be avoided through a compromise worked out by sponsors of the main Senate bill, John Pica, Clarence Blount and Walter Baker. Their bill codifies the free choice guarantees of the Roe decision but adds a parental notification clause. Equally important, it lets physicians decide if the pregnant teen is mature enough to decide for herself or if parental notification would prove harmful to the youngster.

This seems a flexible and pragmatic approach. Maryland cannot legislate better communications between teens and their parents, desirable as this may be. The Pica-Blount-Baker bill attempts to keep parents informed without denying female teen-agers the option to decide for themselves this personal medical and moral question. Senators and delegates should act promptly to pass this measure and put the acrimonious, two-year abortion debate behind them.

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