By a 29-18 vote, the state Senate today passed an abortion-rights bill and handed off the controversial issue to the House of Delegates.
The bill would guarantee women in Maryland the same rights to have abortions they now have under the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, even if the high court modified that decision. The new law would repeal a more restrictive state abortion law that has been dormant since Roe vs. Wade.
The bill, which could come before a House committee as early as tomorrow and the whole House next week, also requires in most cases that a girl under the age of 18 notify her parents before she can obtain an abortion.
Anti-abortion forces in the Senate launched a day-long debate against the bill last Friday and were expected to criticize the measure today when it was brought up for its third and final vote. But not a word was spoken for or against the bill when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, called for comments.
Abortion opponents said they will wait to see what happens to the bill in the House before they devise a new strategy. If the bill is amended to make it more liberal, for example, it could face renewed opposition when it is returned to the Senate.
"It's too early to say whether a filibuster could happen," cautioned Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly, D-Prince George's.
Hard-liners on both sides of the issue found fault with the parental-notification provision. Pro-choice advocates said it would cause some women to seek an illegal abortion to avoid telling their parents. Abortion opponents complained that the notification rule is too liberal because it would authorize physicians to grant exceptions to minors they felt were mature enough to make their own abortion decisions.
Abortion-rights lobbyists said they will continue to oppose the notification provision, but are unsure whether they will actually lobby against the bill.
"The range of strategies remains wide," said Karyn Strickler, a lobbyist with the Maryland chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
Miller has threatened to kill the abortion bill if it is returned to the Senate with new amendments.
Leaders of the abortion rights movement in the House announced today they will support the Senate bill, even with the parental-notification provision.
"Our message is very clear: No amendments to the bill," said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-City.