Carroll legislators attempt to amend abortion law

Recent medical research has prompted Carroll County legislators to attempt to amend Maryland's late-term abortion law.

Several Carroll delegates have submitted bills which seek to prevent abortions from being performed if the gestational age of the fetus, as determined by a physician, is 20 weeks or later.


House Bill 492, titled "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," cites medical research conducted since 2007 which provides strong evidence that unborn children have pain receptors throughout their entire bodies and nerves link these receptors to the brain no later than 20 weeks.

Some medical experts have said unborn children are incapable of experiencing pain until the cerebral cortex is developed and functional, which usually occurs around 24 weeks. More recent research provides evidence countering the idea that a developed cortex is necessary to experience pain.


"There is no one, no organization or doctor, which disputes this point," said Del. Kathy Afzali, R-District 4, who introduced the bill. "It is an indisputable fact."

House Bill 492, she said, takes politics, emotions, even religion out of the issue and relies solely on science.

"We are all going to disagree on when life begins and when, and if, abortion should be legal," Afzali said. "We have people who want abortion up until labor and delivery and those who don't want it at all. The question we should be asking is, do we have the right to inflict pain on a 20-week old baby?"

This bill is not an attempt to change federal law, she said. The Supreme Court ruled in the Roe v. Wade case in 1973 a woman's decision to have an abortion is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Afzali, however, said a level of compassion is now required when considering the condition of the child, since it is known that they can indeed feel pain at 20 weeks.

"Up to that point, we aren't going to argue, but once we get to 20 weeks, these children deserve protection from pain," Afzali said.

She said she was asked by the Susan B. Anthony List, a nonprofit committee that helps further the political careers of pro-life women, to sponsor the bill.

"They asked me to sponsor the bill because a woman sponsoring the bill is a powerful voice for the unborn," she said.

Two other bills, House Bill 961, which was filed by Del. Barrie Ciliberti, and cross-filed in the Senate as Senate Bill 551 by Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, intend to amend the law, which allows for abortions up to 26 weeks into gestation. HB 961 would decrease it to 20 weeks, or less, except for specific medical emergencies.

Such emergencies usually relate to the health and life of the mother, Ciliberti said.

He said he was approached shortly after his appointment as delegate Feb. 4 by several of his colleagues asking if he would like to sponsor the bill.

"I had no problems with [the bill]," Ciliberti said. "It wasn't outside of my comfort zone philosophically or as a Christian."


Ciliberti said versions of his bill have been introduced in other states, however, and they have "not had a good track record."

"Even in states where the bill has passed, it has later been voided by the courts," he said.

He said Afzali's bill has a much better chance of being signed into law, and he is considering pulling his bill so he can fully support Afzali's.

"You can accomplish much if you don't care who gets the credit," Ciliberti said.

Hough said as someone who is pro-life, and who represents many constituents who feel the same way, it is important that efforts are made in the capital to protect human life.

"These bills only affect late-term abortion, which is far more unpopular with the public," Hough said.

He also said many of the existing late-term abortion laws around the country were based on the science of the time of the Roe v. Wade case. Thanks to medical advancements, such as the proliferation of sonography, researchers have been able to provide data as evidence of an unborn child's ability to experience pain far earlier than once thought.

Hough said he expects those who are pro-choice will want amendments added to these bills — if they don't outright oppose it.

"If our opposition has amendments I'll be glad to discuss it," he said.

HB 492 and HB 961 have been assigned to the House's Health and Government Operations Committee and are scheduled for a hearing Monday, March 16. SB 511 has been assigned to the Senate's Finance Committee and is scheduled for a hearing Monday, March 18.

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

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