State health secretary urges OK of abortion law

Maryland's health secretary, joined by more than 100 doctors and Baltimore's health commissioner, yesterday urged approval of Question 6, the new abortion law that goes before the voters Tuesday.

"As a matter of public health, this is a critical piece of legislation," Nelson J. Sabatini, the secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said at a news conference.


Under current law, Mr. Sabatini said, the state health department is without power to regulate abortion clinics, though the doctors who work in them are licensed. The new abortion law, however, permits the health department to adopt regulations for clinics.

"I've heard opponents of Question 6 say that my department would ignore this authorization," Mr. Sabatini said. "Nothing could be further from the truth." Whenever the health department has been given the authority to regulate, it has used that power, Mr. Sabatini said.


The abortion law up for referendum would allow abortion without government restriction until the time in pregnancy when the fetus might be able to survive outside the womb. Later in pregnancy, abortion would be allowed to save the woman's life or health or if the fetus is deformed.

Arrayed behind Mr. Sabatini were more than 100 doctors wearing "Vote For Question 6" badges and carrying campaign signs. The physicians included the head of the University of Maryland Hospital's obstetrical and gynecological department, the head of Maryland chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the director of adolescent health services for the Baltimore Health Department and a representative of the Women's Committee of the American Psychiatric Society.

Dr. Timothy Johnson, head of maternal and fetal medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said he urges approval of the law because he has seen "the devastating effects of illegal abortion."

Dr. Steven Adashek, an obstetrician and gynecologist who organized Doctors For Choice, said the group represents more than 1,500 doctors across the state.

Sunday, a group of about 50 doctors held a press conference to oppose the new law. They said they represented about 200 Maryland doctors. Abortion opponents have campaigned against the law saying that it would allow any licensed doctor -- even a psychiatrist -- to perform an abortion.

But the doctors assembled yesterday said the charge was without merit. "Under Maryland law," Dr. Adashek said, "I could perform brain surgery, but I wouldn't. I'm not qualified in that specialty." To practice outside one's specialty, he added, would mean the loss of hospital privileges and malpractice insurance, as well as possible legal liability.