After rejecting three weakening amendments, the House of Delegates today postponed voting on a controversial abortion-rights bill until a special session starting at 11:59 tonight.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore, called for the postponement at 1 p.m. today after the abortion bill had tied up the House all morning and most of last night. Legislative leaders are in a hurry to get the bill through the General Assembly so lawmakers can turn their attention to other matters.
The bill originated in the state Senate, which passed it Monday and sent it over to the House on Tuesday. Anti-abortionists are trying to tack on restrictive amendments partly because Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, has pledged to see the bill killed if it is returned to the Senate with even modest changes.
Supporters of the bill say they are confident it will survive tonight's debate and they hope Gov. William Donald Schaefer will sign it quickly to avoid a heavy lobbying effort by foes for a veto. During his re-election campaign last year, Schaefer said he will sign an abortion-rights bill passed by the General Assembly, but he has not expressed his position on this particular bill.
Schaefer also has not said whether he will act quickly on the bill, although he has not ruled the possibility, his chief legislative aide said today.
"All options are open," said David S. Iannucci. "I have heard that suggestion and it's very interesting."
The bill would guarantee Maryland women the same rights to have abortions they now have under the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision even if the high court later modified that ruling.
Although abortion foes consider the bill too liberal, abortion-rights supporters say it is a compromise because it contains a provision that, in some cases, would require a parent or guardian of a girl under age 18 to be notified before she can obtain an abortion.
Anti-abortion lawmakers have likened the bill to a train moving rapidly through the legislature and have tried to derail it with restrictive amendments. All three amendments offered on the House floor today -- including a ban on abortion as a means of sex selection and a requirement that the state provide information on alternatives to abortion for all women seeking the procedure -- were defeated.
Two other amendments were defeated during a 90-minute floor debate last night. The one that generated more debate would have exempted doctors who object to abortion on religious and other grounds from having to tell women seeking an abortion about facilities that provide abortions. The bill would require that doctors give abortion referrals as part of standard medical practices, which has outraged abortion foes and some religious leaders.