Abortion again State House issue: Bill aimed at 'partial-birth' abortions could affect other kinds as well.

March 02, 1997

MARYLANDERS who thought they had settled the abortion question with a decisive vote in 1992 are sorry to learn that the issue is alive again in the General Assembly.

A bill ostensibly designed to ban a particular kind of abortion procedure, known as "partial-birth abortion," is making headway in a Senate committee.

The "partial-birth" issue has been a bonanza for abortion opponents because descriptions are just graphic enough to repulse the public, but line drawings illustrating the procedure are not so graphic that they cannot be published. Yet the fact remains that any late-term abortion procedure is troubling, especially in cases where the fetus is healthy and could, in all likelihood, survive outside the womb.

Although this bill purports to outlaw a specific kind of late-term abortion procedure, its language is so vague that many doctors fear it could be interpreted to apply to any abortion at any stage. That is unacceptable.

The Supreme Court decision guaranteeing a woman's right to a medically safe abortion also allowed for increasing state interest in protecting a fetus as the pregnancy progresses. Question 6, Maryland's 1992 abortion referendum, prevents the state from interfering with a woman's decision to have an abortion only before the fetus is viable -- and after viability allows abortion only if it is necessary to protect the life or health of the mother or in cases of "genetic defect or serious deformity or abnormality."

Although a convincing majority of voters throughout the state elected to protect access to abortion in the early stages of pregnancy, the referendum did not carry the force of a constitutional amendment. It can be overturned by subsequent legislation -- and the "partial-birth" abortion bill is a move toward that end.

This year's bill does not specify a particular stage of pregnancy, nor does it refer to a recognized medical procedure. "Partial-birth abortion" is not a medical term but rather a lay description that could potentially be construed to apply to various kinds of abortion procedures.

The attorney general's office concluded that the bill "would interfere with rights that the 1992 law currently protects" and that it "departs significantly" from that law. Marylanders have demonstrated over and over that they do not want to interfere with a woman's right to an abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. They have also placed responsible restrictions on late-term procedures.

Legislators should respect those decisions by voters and defeat this bill.

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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