Abortion-rights lawmakers getting ready for challenges

Delegate says opponents seek to `undo' referendum

January 18, 2003|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Abortion-rights legislators warned yesterday that they are ready to fend off any changes to Maryland's abortion laws after hearing about anti-abortion lawmakers' preliminary plans for legislation.

At an organizational meeting this week, a coalition of about 30 legislators discussed the possibility of legislation to tighten the state's parental notification law, which gives doctors the discretion not to inform the parents of a minor seeking an abortion.

The group is also considering attempting to remove from the budget public funding for abortion in certain cases and proposing a bill to ban late-term abortions.

"These seemingly innocuous proposals are just a Trojan horse for an effort to undo what voters approved on referendum," said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat who has been active in the abortion-rights movement.

In 1992, the state put the then-new abortion-rights law before voters on the general election ballot. More than 60 percent of voters approved it, ending a wrenching three-year battle over the measure.

Daniel M. Clements, chairman of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said yesterday the abortion laws on Maryland's books are solid and should not be tampered with.

"Maryland has a parental notification law which has been in place for 10 years. No evidence exists proving the present law is ineffective," he said. And all previous legislation submitted by anti-abortion legislators on late-term abortion, he said, has failed to pass constitutional guidelines of a conservative Supreme Court.

"These anti-women's rights legislators' goal is not to improve the laws but to eliminate a woman's right to choose," he said.

Clements vowed to make sure Ehrlich lives up to his abortion-rights label. During the campaign, Ehrlich "spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the airwaves assuring women and men that he was pro-choice and would not change the law," he said. "Planned Parenthood and our allies intend to hold the governor to his word and will vigorously oppose any alterations to the state law."

Although the ideas under consideration by anti-abortion lawmakers have failed in the General Assembly in recent years, the new governor has given the group some hope. Although he billed himself as an abortion-rights candidate, Ehrlich personally supports all the measures the anti-abortion lawmakers are considering.

"It's been happening for years, that legislation like this has been put in," said Sen. Sharon M. Grosfeld, a Montgomery County Democrat. "Now with the current governor, we expected there would be even more of an effort because they perceive the governor to be on their side."

But Grosfeld and others say they aren't too worried. Although more Republicans have been elected to the House of Delegates, "the legislature overall has become more progressive" in ideology, she said. Also, House Speaker Michael E. Busch supports abortion rights, while his predecessor did not.

In the Senate, a majority of members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where some abortion bills could end up, might back anti-abortion legislation. However, the committee chairman, Montgomery County Democratic Sen. Brian E. Frosh, favors abortion rights.

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