By JENN BOGDAN
ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 28, 2008)—Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler opposes a proposed federal ruling protecting doctors who don't want to perform abortions, saying Washington is stepping all over the rights of individual states.
Abortion rights opponents argue that Gansler's protest is really about the state's liberal attitude toward abortion.
Gansler joined 12 other states' attorneys general Wednesday writing a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services protesting the rule. Among other complaints, the states' letter says it is unclear what procedures could be refused as the term "abortion" is not clearly defined.
Maryland already has a state law protecting doctors who don't wish to perform or provide referrals for abortion, artificial insemination or sterilization procedures. Gansler said, Maryland has adequately addressed the issue, and the ruling gives the federal government too much control over health services traditionally regulated by states.
"It may or may not affect Maryland directly because we already have our rules," said Gansler. "If it were passed it could potentially muddy the waters for this issue in Maryland, which has already been resolved."
The federal rule, proposed in August, would protect health care employees, volunteers and students with religious or moral objections to abortion from performing, providing referrals or handling equipment from the procedures. Any violations of the regulation could lead to a loss of government funding for clinics and hospitals.
Abortion rights opponents said they view Gansler's position as another example of liberal state policies protecting abortion.
Angela Martin, president of Maryland Right to Life, said the state's protections for physicians refusing to perform abortions or make referrals are inadequate. The law states a physician could still face civil liability for not making a referral if it's deemed "contrary to the standards of medical care."
Regardless of Gansler's argument for states' rights, Tom Hurd, the Respect Life Committee coordinator at St. Mary's Parish in Annapolis, said the attorney general's position is just one more example of how abortion opponents are never heard in Maryland.
"The abortion industry is basically sacred to the present administration and the state legislature, and the girls suffer," said Hurd. "That's the bottom line of what happens in this state."
Abortion rights supporters applauded Gansler's protest, agreeing that the issue should be left up to the states.
Jennifer Blasdell, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, said she would be particularly concerned about seeing a federal regulation pass because it could potentially negate a Maryland law guaranteeing insurance compensation for contraceptives.
Gansler said he was optimistic that the letter he and his colleagues signed would lead to a retraction of the regulation since there was significant support from Democratic and Republican attorneys general alike.
"Whenever the federal government attempts to impose its morality, if you will, upon individual states, thereby encroaching on states rights we as attorneys general will often band together to fight against that, and usually we're successful," said Gansler.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.