ANNAPOLIS — Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, sheathed his legislative sword Thursday at a hearing on 12 abortion bills and attempted to appeal to his colleagues on another level -- that of a parent.
LaMotte, a primary sponsor of two abortion-rights bills, argued against the inclusion of any clause requiring minors to notify parents before having an abortion, a focus of debate on the issue.
In an emotional plea, he described his recent meeting with the parents of a young Indiana woman who died as a result of a "botched back-alley abortion" and questioned whether his own teen-age daughter would be too ashamed to approach her parents if caught in the same predicament.
"I'd rather have a daughter who has had a safe and legal abortion without my knowledge than risk the death of my daughter because the legislature decided it had a political need to mandate familycommunications," he said, referring to an Indiana law requiring parental consent for abortions performed on minors. A similar proposal isbeing considered by the assembly.
In a joint hearing, members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and House Environmental Matters Committee listened to five hours of testimony from women who had and hadn't had abortions, legislators, religious leaders, lobbyists, social workers, doctors, lawyers and educators.
They heard stories from women who said they regretted having an abortion and felt deceived; women who were grateful they were not forced to tell parents before seeking an abortion; and two men born with disabilities who said they might have been casualties of abortion under current laws.
Now it is up to lawmakers to decide whether any changes will be made to Maryland law, a 1968 statute allowing abortions only under certaincircumstances and requiring parental consent for minors.
The law was superseded by the Supreme Court's legalization of abortion in its1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, a ruling that may be threatened by recent Supreme Court appointees who have indicated a willingness to reconsider it. If the ruling is overturned, states could establish their own abortion policies.
LaMotte, an Environmental Matters Committee member, urged the legislators to "affirm that the women of Maryland should continue to be free of government interference in the most private and basic decisions a woman could ever have to make."
Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, a member of the same committee,supports a package of bills that restricts abortion except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman is at stake; prohibits abortions on "unemancipated minors" without parental consent; establishes performance standards for abortion procedures; and requires physicians to inform women of options and risks. Sen. Larry E. Haines,R-Carroll, Baltimore, who sat in on part of the hearing, is a co-sponsor of the Senate bills.
Elliott said the bills, which allow exceptions, "represent what the greatest number of people think." He saidhe believes the abortion-rights proposals are "too open-ended," evenfor those who support abortion rights.
A parental notification requirement for minors is desirable because a girl under the age of 16 "is a child and should be under the care of parents," he said.
LaMotte is sponsoring bills that would codify the Supreme Court decisionand require minors to receive counseling before having an abortion.
Anti-abortion legislators argued that the abortion-rights bills donot strike a balance between the rights of the woman and the fetus, or, in the case of a minor, between the teen-ager and the parent.