For those persuaded by abortion opponents that Question 6, the abortion measure on Tuesday's ballot, is a "bad law," it is instructive to look back at the law that the measure would replace if the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade.
Under that 1968 legislation, abortions could be performed only in hospitals -- and only with the approval of a hospital review committee. Both conditions served to make the procedure more expensive and more difficult. For example, an abortion in a clinic now costs around $300, while the same procedure in a hospital costs several times that amount. Before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion, cost alone kept safe abortions out of reach for many women. Moreover, the delays caused by the review process mandated by the 1968 law made abortions riskier and more traumatic for all women in Maryland.
Under that system, each hospital set up its own review boards and approval procedures. In practical terms, that meant the availability of abortion varied from hospital to hospital. The 1968 law was considered liberal for its time because it allowed consideration of a woman's mental health, not just threats to her physical health. However, the criteria for proving a threat to mental health also varied from hospital to hospital -- and many institutions took a strict approach. Some even required a woman to sign herself into a psychiatric ward to prove that the pregnancy indeed threatened her mental health. That kind of treatment added more dollars to the fee and, certainly, more emotional trauma to an already difficult situation.
Opponents of Question 6 like to describe the 1968 law as liberal -- and, for its time, it was. Even so, abortion was by no means accessible to all women and many Marylanders still resorted to illegal abortions, despite the risk to their health and safety. In July 1971, an article in The Sun detailed the barriers that still faced women seeking an abortion in Maryland. Sources quoted in the story noted that many Maryland women were forced to go elsewhere -- to New York or Washington, D.C. -- where abortions were cheaper and, equally important, where women were not as likely to face delays.
If opponents of Question 6 were truly interested in protecting women from threats to their health and safety, they would acknowledge that the measure would, in fact, allow for stricter regulation of abortion clinics in Maryland than currently exists. It would also give the state an enforceable parental notification requirement it does not now have.
To preserve access to safe, private and legal abortions in Maryland, vote FOR Question 6 next Tuesday.