A Maryland Senate committee of 11 lawmakers may decide early next week which of six abortion bills will serve as the focus of a floor debate over one of the most emotional issues revisiting the General Assembly.
The bills -- representing various viewpoints on both sides of the question -- were the subject of a five-hour hearing yesterday in Annapolis before a joint committee of lawmakers from the House and the Senate.
Dozens of people testified before a crowd of more than 100 spectators, while outside the building where the hearing took place a handful of mostly anti-abortion demonstrators marched quietly in the cold wind under the eyes of an equal number of police.
Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Eastern Shore, said his Judicial Proceedings Committee will vote on the bills perhaps as soon as Tuesday, an action which should send an abortion bill to the floor, where lively debate is expected.
The House Environmental Matters Committee, which also must decide which of six similar bills it prefers, will wait to vote until the Senate begins action on the abortion issue, according to committee head Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Eastern Shore.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, has vowed not to let the abortion issue embroil the Senate as it did last year when a filibuster --ed attempts to pass abortion-rights legislation.
Among the bills facing Baker's committee is one that would keep legal abortions widely available in Maryland but require most teen-agers seeking an abortion to tell their parents before going through with the procedure. Other bills are either more liberal or more restrictive.
Legislative eyes will be watching the abortion-rights bill with the so-called parental notification clause because it is the one backed by Miller and Baker. Abortion lobbyists on both sides of ** the issue agree that at least five committee members are likely to vote in favor of the leadership-backed bill, but six votes are needed to get it out of committee and onto the floor.
In the meantime, abortion foes like Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, say they will fight any abortion-rights bill that comes before the full Senate.
Saying that rights of fetuses have been protected by law for centuries, Cade argued that any abortion bill passed by the General Assembly ought to balance the rights of the mother and the fetus.
"It cannot be a one-way street where only the mother's interests prevail," he said yesterday. "It cannot be."