The following answers to questions about Maryland'
abortion-law referendum were prepared by Maryland for Choice, group supporting the law and urging a vote for the referendum. The answers are being presented without editorial changes.
1. What will the impact on Maryland citizens be if the new abortion law is approved by the voters at referendum on Nov. 3?
The passage of Question 6 will essentially maintain the status quo in Maryland. It keeps government from interfering in a woman's abortion decision before the fetus is viable. After the point of viability, abortion would only be allowed under extreme medical circumstances.
Two changes that the law will make are that it will add a parental notification clause and it will authorize the state Department of Health to adopt health and safety regulations that aren't currently in place. The parental notification clause of the new law would require that a physician notify a parent or guardian of an unmarried minor seeking an abortion. Section 20-209 (C) of the new law authorizes the state department of health to adopt regulations to protect patients wherever necessary.
2. The new law would require doctors to notify the parents of a minor before she has an abortion -- unless the doctor decides the girl is "mature and capable of giving informed consent" or that notifying the girl's parents "would not be in the best interest of the minor." What would the effect be of this provision?
If Question 6 passes, Maryland will have an enforceable parental notification law for the first time in 20 years. The exceptions to that notification are necessary in order for the statute to meet constitutional muster. Supreme Court rulings have consistently maintained that a minor's maturity and best interests must be considered in order for a parental involvement law to be adopted.
Opponents of Question 6 say that a judge should be the person to make the decision on whether to bypass notification. But, at closer examination, the physician's bypass avoids three dangerous pitfalls of the judicial bypass.
A physician's bypass treats a minor like a patient. A judicial bypass treats a minor like a criminal.
A physician's bypass allows for a timely bypass to safeguard a minor's health. A judicial bypass can take weeks, delaying the procedure and endangering a minor's health.
A physician's bypass protects the minor's confidentiality. A judicial bypass risks the minor's confidentiality by involving, lawyers, clerks, judges, etc.
Parental notification with a physician's bypass is a law that strikes a balance between the interests of parents and the health and well-being of minors.
3. The new law would repeal a ban on for-profit abortion-referral businesses. The Maryland attorney general says such businesses would remain illegal because they are banned by other health laws. What do you think the effect would be if the ban on for-profit abortion referral services is repealed?
The abortion-referral or kickback issue raised by opponents of Question 6 is nothing more than a scare tactic designed to frighten voters. The Maryland attorney general is right, such businesses will remain illegal. The only way to keep such unscrupulous practices from resurfacing is to make sure that women continue to have access to abortion services. Yet, opponents of Question 6 continue to make reckless charges against physicians, teachers and guidance counselors.
First, opponents of Question 6 said that the physicians would pay kickbacks for abortion referral under Maryland's new law. When it was pointed out that such practices are prohibited under a separate laws, they moved on to their next victim.
Next, opponents of Question 6 went after school teachers. They said that teachers would accept kickbacks for referring students for abortions. Teachers were rightfully outraged. The Maryland State Teachers Association released a statement condemning this "teacher bashing" and outlining their code of ethics which forbids accepting any private fees.
Foiled in their first two attempts to malign Maryland doctors and teachers, opponents of Question 6 took aim at Maryland guidance counselors. The Maryland Guidance and Development Association also released their guidelines that strictly prohibit such unethical behavior. Yet, at this writing, opponents of Question 6 continue to make these ridiculous charges.
Opponents of Question 6 should have the courage of their convictions and tell voters that they are "pro-life" and believe that abortion should be a criminal act, instead of running a campaign of red herrings and scare tactics.
4. The new law would allow abortion without government interference until the time in pregnancy when the fetus might be able to survive outside the womb. Later in pregnancy, abortion would be allowed only to "protect the life or health of the woman" or if the fetus is found to have a genetic defect or has a serious deformity or abnormality. What effect would the new law have?
Again, the new law is in line with current medical practice in this area. Although current law puts the point of viability at between 22 and 24 weeks, most clinics and doctors offices set stricter limits -- between 18 and 20 weeks. This will not change when Question 6 is adopted.
The exceptions for late-term abortions are also consistent with current medical practice. Even when serious complications arise, physicians in Maryland will refer a woman out of state before performing a late-term abortion, because the procedure is too dangerous. From 1985 to 1990, only five late-term abortions were performed in Maryland. No doctor likes to perform a late-term abortion and no wants wants to jeopardize her life to have one.
5. The new law does not specify any licensing regulations for abortion services but allows the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to adopt regulations to protect women's safety. Does the new law provide adequate health protections?
All free-standing clinics and doctors offices in Maryland are regulated through the physicians who work there. The physician in charge is held accountable for the standard of care. Medical malpractice guidelines, licensing guidelines and the Physician's Quality Assurance Board all regulate medical practice in Maryland.
Abortion is proven to be one of the safest out-patient medical procedures. Even so, Question 6 goes one step further to ensure patient safety. Section 20-209 (C) of the law authorizes the state Department of Health to adopt additional regulations that are:
1. Both necessary and the least intrusive method to protect the life or health of the woman; and
2. Are not inconsistent with established medical practice.
Maryland's new law can only make abortion safer in Maryland.
6. The new law would repeal a 1979 law that requires women considering abortion be given a pamphlet noting alternatives such as adoption. What would the effect of the repeal of this provision be?
Informed consent is already an important part of Maryland law. Medical malpractice guidelines require physicians to inform a patient of all consequences and alternatives.
Planned Parenthood, for instance, requires that a patient be given alternatives counseling before the procedure. When a women comes into a Planned Parenthood clinic for a pregnancy test, she is given alternatives counseling. If that woman returns to the clinic for an abortion, she is again given alternatives counseling and asked to sign an informed consent form, saying that she is aware of her alternatives. The woman's responses to the counselor's questions must be documented. These practices would remain in place. The only thing that is being repealed is the requirement that women be given a brochure authored by the state. This is in line with the principal holding of the law that says that the state may not interfere with a woman's abortion decision before the fetus is viable or under certain conditions at any time.
7. The new law would repeal a 1968 law that has been unconstitutional since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Roe vs. Wade ruling, guaranteed the right to abortion. If the new law is defeated and the court overturns Roe vs. Wade, the 1968 law would once again govern abortion practices. What effect would the renewed enforcement of the 1968 law have?
Renewed enforcement of the 1968 laws would have a devastating effect on Maryland women. It would strip women of their right to choose and instead require that women go before a hospital review board to ask for approval of an abortion. Abortion would no longer be a private decision.
To examine how restrictive the old law is, let's take the extreme case of a woman who is the victim of rape. Under Maryland's old law, a rape victim could only be granted permission for an abortion if:
A. That rape is reported to authorities (only a small percentage of rapes are reported).
B. The state's attorney provides a written statement saying that there is "probable cause" to believe that a rape occurred.
C. The woman goes before a hospital review board to ask permission for an abortion.
This is the humiliating reality of Maryland's old law that treats victims like criminals. It's an outdated law that sends the message that women are not capable of making their own decisions.
The old law would also require that all abortions be performed in hospitals -- not in clinics or doctors' offices. The reality of this provision is that the cost of an abortion procedure would increase ten-fold, making it unaffordable to the vast majority of Maryland women. We cannot return to the days when reproductive rights belonged only to the wealthy and forced less fortunate women into the back alleys.
As much as anything else, this referendum vote is a vote to repeal Maryland's old law. By voting "for" Question 6 we can replace that old restrictive law with a pro-choice law that protects freedom of choice for all Maryland Women. We've come a long way and can't afford to go back.