Abortion plan's effect on Md. unclear U.S. would pay for poor women MARYLAND/REGION


State health officials said yesterday that it's unclear how President Clinton's plan to lift a ban on federal financing of abortions for poor women will affect Maryland, which uses state funds to pay for abortions in circumstances beyond those allowed under federal law.

The Hyde Amendment, which took effect 16 years ago, allows the federal government to pay for abortions for poor women only if they risk death by continuing the pregnancy.

Maryland, however, is one of eight states that uses its own money to pay for abortions if the pregnancy would harm a woman's mental or physical health, the fetus has a serious abnormality or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

In fiscal 1991, Maryland spent $2.95 million in state funds to pay for 3,176 abortions for poor women, according to Michael Golden, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Only three of those were abortions performed because the woman's life was at risk, which is the only time the Hyde Amendment allows spending federal funds for abortion, Mr. Golden said.

If federal rules had covered all the abortions for poor Maryland women in 1991, the state could have recovered half its costs, or nearly $1.5 million, Mr. Golden said.

But he added that it's impossible to predict how abortions for poor women in Maryland will figure into the Clinton administration's plans to revamp health-care coverage nationally. One proposal under consideration is a plan to dismantle Medicaid, which pays health costs for the poor. Low-income people would instead be part of the same health-care system used by more affluent Americans.

Also uncertain is whether Congress will lift the Hyde Amendment but impose some other restrictions on abortions that are paid for with federal funds. Maura Keefe, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said statistics cannot show how many poor women are denied abortions because they do not fit into one of the circumstances allowed for government payment. "Are women being denied?" Ms. Keefe asked. "Yes, probably. But there's no way to show women [who want abortions] aren't getting abortions."

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