ANNAPOLIS -- The debate hasn't begun, but the tension already is thickening as the Maryland Senate prepares, for the second straight year, to give itself over to the potentially disruptive issue of abortion.
The debate is expected to start this morning and continue all day on a bill that would keep most abortions in Maryland legal and would require a parent to be notified, in most cases, before a girl has an abortion.
The Senate has canceled its usual afternoon committee meetings to allow for the debate. If the discussion isn't completed by tonight, the senators may return for more work on the issue over the weekend.
The first parliamentary skirmishes came yesterday morning. Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, an abortion opponent, demanded to know why a Senate committee had approved an abortion-rights bill but failed to consider his measures, which would restrict abortion.
"I'm personally offended by the approach the chair and the chairman of Judicial Proceedings are using," Mr. Cade said, referring to Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil.
He vowed to try to delay consideration of the abortion-rights bill until the committee votes on his measures.
But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said the debate will begin as scheduled, even without a committe vote on Mr. Cade's bills.
"The issue, as you can see, is a very volatile issue," Mr. Miller said.
Outside the Senate chamber, anti-abortion groups were angered by the fact that Mr. Cade's bills have not been considered by the committee.
"Talk about equal treatment," said Pat Kelly, a lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference. "Equal treatment is not the name of the game down here."
Last year, abortion opponents filibustered for eight days, holding the floor to stall the passage of an abortion-rights bill, which eventually died. In contrast, Senate leaders this year expect real debate over a series of related issues, including abortions for minors, statistical reporting of abortions, testing to establish the age of the fetus and standards for abortion clinics.