In a close vote, the Senate defeated a bill yesterday that would have permitted pharmacists to dispense so-called "morning-after" emergency contraception without a prescription.
After lengthy testimony, the 21-25 vote shocked sponsor Sharon M. Grosfeld, a Montgomery County Democrat. Two sponsors of the bill - Democrats Gloria G. Lawlah of Prince George's and Edward J. Kasemeyer of Howard County - cast dissenting votes.
"I'm very disappointed," Grosfeld said. "It was a total shock. I think that maybe some senators were concerned about the right-wing movement in their district and were concerned about their own re-elections."
Several senators spoke against the bill, raising questions about minors having such easy access to the contraception, known as Plan B or the "morning-after pill," without parental knowledge or the expertise of a doctor.
"I'm for a woman's right to choose, but my definition of a woman is not a 12-, 13- or 14-year-old," said Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a Howard Republican.
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican representing Harford and Cecil counties, painted the scenario of a 12- or 13-year-old pregnant girl standing in line at a drugstore, waiting to get advice. "I don't think this is right and I don't think that it's fair to our children," Jacobs aid.
Also raised were different beliefs by some of when life begins.
"I think it's a public policy that takes us again down another slope," said Sen. Leo E. Green, a Democrat from Prince George's.
The Maryland Catholic Conference was against the bill, but officials there said they did not view it as an anti-abortion issue, but rather as a women's health issue.
Supporters, such as Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, chairwoman of the committee that approved it, supported it as leading to fewer abortions and unintended pregnancies.
Plan B is a type of emergency contraception, and not capable of aborting a pregnancy. Emergency contraception can prevent or delay the release of an egg from the ovaries, fertilization or a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
The bill would have required dispensing pharmacists to be certified by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and to consult with anyone requesting it. It allowed pharmacists to refuse to administer the contraception, an amendment that Grosfeld was unhappy about.
"We are very comfortable that pharmacists would be able to provide consultation to any woman who is taking emergency contraception," said Wendy Royalty, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Maryland Inc., which favored the bill. "The bottom line is they've already had the unprotected sex. Our job is to make sure we prevent an unintended pregnancy."
At least four states have similar legislation.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has held hearings on whether to allow drugstores to sell emergency contraception, but the agency has yet to take any action.
This is the third year such legislation was introduced in Maryland. Two years ago, a bill passed the House of Delegates. Supporters say they hope the House version of the bill will pass again this year and cross over in the Senate, or that the FDA will soon take action.