Abortion-rights bill is nearing approval in House * Delegates are expected to approve measure today. Advocates consider it a compromise.


An abortion-rights bill that is moving rapidly through the General Assembly is expected to be approved today by the House of Delegates.

The bill would guarantee Maryland women the same rights to have abortions they now have under the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision even if the high court later modified that ruling.

Although abortion foes consider the bill too liberal, abortion-rights supporters say it is a compromise because it contains a provision that, in some cases, would require a parent or guardian of a girl under age 18 to be notified before she can obtain an abortion.

Anti-abortion lawmakers in the House are expected to try to derail the bill through restrictive amendments, but abortion-rights supporters say they have enough votes to pass it unscathed today.

The bill originated in the state Senate, which approved it and sent it to the House Tuesday.

During a late night, 90-minute House session yesterday, abortion opponents attempted to weaken the bill with two amendments that had been previously defeated when the measure was in committee.

An amendment that generated the most debate would have exempted doctors who object to abortion on religious and other grounds from having to give a woman seeking an abortion information about services that provide abortions.

The abortion-rights bill would require that doctors give abortion referrals as part of standard medical practices, a likelihood that has outraged abortion foes and some religious leaders.

"What this means is that Catholic hospitals as well as Catholic and other health-care professionals -- and there are many -- who believe that abortion is the wrongful taking of innocent human life will face the prospect of punishment because of their convictions, which they hold in conscience," said Archbishop William H. Keeler, head of the Baltimore Archdiocese, in a prepared statement yesterday.

Although Catholic lobbyists in Annapolis have worked against that part of the bill, Keeler said he spoke out against it personally because "I see this as a very fundamental human rights issue, an issue of freedom of conscience. Our concern is over the unraveling of First Amendment protections."

An amendment that would have inserted in the measure a so-called "conscience clause" exempting some doctors from the referral requirement was defeated by a roll-call vote of 60 for, 74 against. The bill itself passed by a voice vote.

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