Senator helps kill abortion measure

Schrader had been a co-sponsor of bill seeking 18-hour wait

March 21, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader helped kill a bill regulating abortion yesterday, ending a month of partisan bickering over the measure, which she co-sponsored.

The bill, which would have imposed an 18-hour waiting period on women seeking abortions, died on a 6-5 committee vote. Schrader, one of three Republicans on the committee, voted to kill the bill, committee staffers said.

Democrats had accused Schrader, who was appointed recently to the seat after former Sen. Martin G. Madden's resignation in January, of either being careless or trying to waffle on her pro-abortion-rights stance by allowing herself to be a co-sponsor.

"I'm glad she did the right thing in the end. I hope in future she'll read legislation before deciding to co-sponsor it," said Neil Quinter, president of the Columbia Democratic Club.

County Democrats are eager to win the District 13 Senate seat in November's elections, when County Council veteran C. Vernon Gray, a Democrat, is expected to be her opponent.

The dispute over Senate Bill 581 flared again this week, with Democrats questioning the new senator's commitment to her public stance as a supporter of legal abortion - though she labeled the whole controversy "petty."

It all started the first week she took office, she said.

"A lobbyist came in with a synopsis of the bill," the "Women's Health Protection Act," she said, but the full version wasn't in print. Neither the title nor the description mentioned the measure's most important provision - an 18-hour waiting period for women who want abortions.

She signed on as a co-sponsor, she said, a move she acknowledges was a mistake.

"That was an intrusive piece of legislation," she said. "Was it my mistake for signing on? Yes."

Democrats argue that as a senator and former aide to Madden for 11 years, Schrader should know enough to read any bill she sponsors, unless she is waffling on abortion.

Schrader said she supports legal abortion, but with limits. "I am opposed to partial-birth abortions," she said, or to abortion used as birth control. "I want women to have a choice."

Democrats remained suspicious, however.

"Concerns have been raised. Having put her name on as a co-sponsor, it's incumbent on her to make her stand clear," Quinter said before yesterday's vote. Quinter is a likely candidate for House of Delegates in Schrader's district.

Schrader submitted an amendment to remove her name as a sponsor Feb. 18, one day before Quinter's club publicly criticized her. But General Assembly rules say a co-sponsor's name cannot be removed except by amendment voted on when the bill is, and yesterday's vote renders that a moot point. Schrader said she was unable to remove her name before the vote. That fueled more Democratic speculation that Schrader was perhaps not sincere because her name remained on the bill.

"Unfortunately, they [Democrats] have to be petty about it. I'm not worried about it," she said yesterday. "This is not a big deal."

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