Republican lawmakers planning legislation to stop late-term abortions
Effort prompted by Nebraska doctor's move to Montgomery County
Some Republican lawmakers say they will introduce legislation in the upcoming session that would ban Maryland doctors from performing late-term abortions.
While some say the abortion issue has long been settled, a controversial Nebraska doctor's decision to begin performing later-term abortions at a Montgomery County clinic has revived the issue.
The doctor, LeRoy Carhart, began working at the Reproductive Health Services clinic Monday, prompting about 300 anti-abortion protesters to rally outside the Germantown facility. Another protest has been planned for Saturday.
Now, Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Dist. 31) of Glen Burnie says he is organizing a group of anti-abortion legislators to introduce a bill that would ban clinics from offering late-term abortions for any reason.
Dwyer says the coalition will be bipartisan, but that no Democratic legislators have signed on yet.
The delegate said he is unlikely to be the lead sponsor of the legislation because he will introduce separate legislation that would define life as beginning at conception — what some believe is a first step toward an outright abortion ban.
Several Democrats interviewed by The Gazette say the legislation is unlikely to gain traction, because the abortion issue in Maryland was settled by a 1992 referendum vote.
In 1991, the General Assembly passed a pro-choice law asserting that the state cannot interfere with a woman's right to decide whether or not to continue her pregnancy within the boundaries established in Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortion groups collected petitions to force the measures contained in the new law onto the 1992 ballot with the intent to repeal the law, but Maryland voters approved the measure.
The law states that women can terminate pregnancies before the fetus can live on its own or anytime during the pregnancy if it is necessary to protect the health or life of the woman or if the fetus "is affected by genetic defect or serious deformity or abnormality."
"Women seeking legal abortions late in their pregnancies are doing so for tragic reasons," said Del.-elect Ariana Kelly (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda. "Maryland legislators know this and will not add to their suffering with an inhumane abortion ban." Kelly, the former executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, said she does not see the need to revisit the state's abortion law.
Carhart chose Maryland because the state's abortion laws are more permissive than many others, including Nebraska's, where his practice has been based since 1985, according to advocates.
"I find the late-term abortion service that this particular doctor specializes in very abhorrent and very dangerous," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby, the House minority leader. "I wish he would go back from whence he came."
However, abortion rights advocates say that abortions after the second trimester are rare and only performed when the life of the mother is in danger, or the baby faces catastrophic medical complications.
"Some media reports would have you think these (post second-trimester abortions) are happening every day now in Maryland. That's not true at all," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, the Washington, D.C.-based professional association of abortion providers.
A spokeswoman at Carhart's clinic referred questions about his procedures to the federation.
Saporta said Carhart currently is providing abortions through the second trimester, but is qualified to perform later-term abortions. He is the only known Maryland doctor that does so.
Carhart is widely known as the doctor who pledged to continue providing late-term abortions in Nebraska after the 2009 murder of late-term abortion provider Dr. George R. Tiller in Kansas.
Prompted by Carhart's practice, Nebraska lawmakers voted this year to outlaw abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, prompting Carhart to begin practicing in Maryland part time.
"With the murder of Dr. George Tiller, in Nebraska and other states women in the most tragic circumstances have fewer and fewer places to turn," said Jennifer Blasdell, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland. "We support Dr. Carhart coming to Maryland."
The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, who led this week's protest at the clinic and lobbied for the change in Nebraska law, said his group will draft legislation that could be used to ban Carhart's work in Maryland.
Thirty-eight states prohibit some abortions after a certain point in a pregnancy, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, which is based in Washington, D.C. Twenty-three states, including Maryland, outlaw abortions at the point when fetuses are viable outside of the womb.
Five states prohibit abortions in the mother's third trimester, and 10 states have prohibitions after a certain number of weeks — generally 24.
In Maryland and 31 other states, later-term abortions are allowed to preserve the life or health of the woman. Saporta said she is unsure how many other doctors nationwide perform the later-term abortions that Carhart provides.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2006 the majority of abortions — 62 percent — took place within eight weeks of conception; 5 percent of abortions were performed after 16 weeks.
In Maryland, there does appear to be some bipartisan support for abortion clinic regulation.
"I think we're going to see a bipartisan effort to regulate a very unregulated set of surgical clinics," O'Donnell said.
Del. Adelaide C. Eckardt (R-Dist. 37B) of Cambridge said many abortion clinics lack the regulations and safeguards found at other medical facilities. Eight abortion providers are listed for Maryland on the National Abortion Federation website, but other listings show as many as 15.
"My concern has been primarily with the lack of regulation with outpatient surgical abortion services," said Eckardt, a nurse. "They need to be regulated as any other surgical service."
Staff Writers Alan Brody and Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.