Fiction and Facts on Abortion

September 27, 1992

Guidance counselors and teachers are the latest pawns in the fight over Question 6, the abortion law requiring voter approval -- and a "yes" vote on the November ballot. Opponents of the law charge that it would allow counselors and teachers to profit from arranging abortions for students. The charge is simply wrong -- but that has not stopped opponents from repeating it.

Let's get this straight: Question 6 does not legalize "profit-making referral fees," as one current television ad financed by the anti-abortion rights coalition maintains. Maryland law specifically states that physicians can lose their license to practice medicine if they profit in any way from soliciting patients. The prohibition extends to anyone acting on behalf of the physician -- such as a clinic where abortions are performed. Any teacher or counselor who attempted to profit from a student's abortion would violate the ethical standards governing his or her profession and would be subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal. Moreover, it's a phony issue. The law on referrals isn't changed by this law. Opponents have been unable to come up with a single case in the post-Roe years in which a referral fee to a guidance counselor, teacher or anyone else has been a factor in an abortion.

Question 6 would supersede a 1975 law, which required that any non-profit abortion referral service must be registered with the state health department. (For-profit referrals were already illegal). also prohibited any fee-splitting or kickbacks for abortion referrals.

Opponents of Question 6 contend that the date of that law -- after the Supreme Court legalized abortions in 1973 -- indicates that the court decision did not put an end to problems with kickbacks for abortion referrals. But a check of the history of this legislation suggests that, too, is not true. A note attached to the legislation pointed out that this provision of the law was superfluous because such kickbacks were already illegal in Maryland.

Maryland did have a problem with unscrupulous referral services in the early 1970s, before Roe vs. Wade. News reports at the time indicate that one shady outfit was collecting a couple of hundred dollars from women seeking abortions -- and simply referring them to clinics in Washington, D.C., and New York, where abortion was more widely available than in Maryland.

The profit went out of abortion referral services when abortion became legal, safe and accessible. If Question 6 is defeated, and if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, unscrupulous referral services will almost surely sprout up again.

That is an important point for voters to remember while trying to sorting out fact from fiction in this abortion referendum. Vote "yes" on Nov. 3.

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