ANNAPOLIS -- Abortion-rights leaders secured a critical first victory in the House of Delegates yesterday as a bill aimed at protecting the right to abortion won committee approval, despite opponents' efforts to add amendments.
The measure, which anti-abortion activists protest is being railroaded through the legislature, will be sent to the House floor today. The bill's supporters predict enactment of the bill as early as Friday.
"I believe we have a very strong majority in the House to pass the bill unamended," said Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Baltimore County.
Abortion-rights delegates believe that any changes to the bill, which was approved by the Senate Tuesday, could be fatal. Amendments would require the measure be sent back to the Senate, and the Senate president has made clear he cannot guarantee it would be reconsidered.
Yesterday, members of the House Environmental Matters Committee spent two hours and 45 minutes reviewing the bill and debating nine amendments. But all of the changes were defeated.
"I don't think any of the amendments were voted on on their merits," said Pat Kelly, lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference, which opposes abortion. She called the bill "radical in the extreme."
The firm committee stand bolstered the confidence of the bill's backers. "I think this vote solidifies a majority in both houses," said Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, who with Mr. LaMotte is leading the fight for the bill in the House.
"People realize that any amendment was offered not to perfect the bill but to slay it," he said.
While opponents of the measure say the bill is being pushed through the legislature too rapidly, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, said that the House leadership has not taken a position on the bill.
"We're not trying to push this bill through like a train," he said. "It is a personal matter. I don't care if the bill is amended. I just want to make sure we're fair to both sides."
The bill would allow abortion without government interference until the time in pregnancy when the fetus might be able to survive outside the womb. After that, abortion would be allowed only to save the life or health of the mother or if the fetus is deformed.
The measure also would require a doctor to notify a parent, in most cases, before a minor can have an abortion. Opponents of the bill say the clause contains too many exceptions to be effective.
Before yesterday's formal committee meeting, the members met in an unannounced session for a review of the bill with staff members.
"It wasn't a closed-door meeting," Delegate Ronald A. Guns, D-Cecil, said. "We were just trying to set the stage for today's meeting." The committee chairman said the 30-minute session "gave us a chance to vent some frustrations."
Among the spectators were delegates leading the opposing forces on the issue and lobbyists working on the measure.
The failed amendments included one that would have prohibited abortion in cases where the parent did not want a child of a certain gender.
Opponents of the amendment said it would be unenforceable. "It's unfathomable to me how you could determine the motive inside somebody's head," said Delegate Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore.
The committee also rejected an amendment that would have required a parent's consent before a girl had an abortion.
"Who makes better decisions than parents?" asked Delegate Anthony M. DiPietro Jr., D-Baltimore.
But abortion-rights delegates said the bill did not provide enough safeguards for girls who are in danger of parental abuse.
Committee vote on abortion bill
The bill approved by the House Environmental Matters Committee yesterday would allow abortion without government interference until the time in pregnancy when the fetus might be able to survive outside the womb. Abortion later in pregnancy would be allowed only to save the life or health of the woman or if the fetus is deformed. The final vote was:
Bonsack, Rose Mary Hatem, D-Harford
DiPietro, Anthony M. Jr., D-Baltimore
Elliott, Donald B., R-Carroll
Perry, Marsha G., D-Anne Arundel
Pitkin, Joan B., D-Prince George's
Roesser, Jean W., R-Montgomery
Did Not Vote:
Guns, Ronald A., D-Cecil
Chairmen vote only to break ties.
Frosh, Brian E., D-Montgomery
Fulton, Tony E., D-Baltimore
Huff, W. Ray, D-Anne Arundel
Jefferies, John D., D-Baltimore
Johnson, Samuel Q. III, D-Eastern Shore
Kelley, Delores G., D-Baltimore
LaMotte, Lawrence A., D-Baltimore
McHale, Brian K., D-Baltimore
Murphy, Margaret H., D-Baltimore
Pinsky, Paul G., D-Prince George's
Proctor, James E. Jr., D-Prince George's
Redmer, Alfred W. Jr., R-Baltimore County
Schisler, Kenneth D., R-Eastern Shore
Teitelbaum, Leonard H., D-Montgomery
Thomas, Virginia M.,
D-Howard vice chairwoman
Van Hollen, Christopher Jr., D-Montgomery
Weir, Michael H., D-Baltimore County