By HOLLY NUNN
ANNAPOLIS (March 15, 2011) Citing recent incidents in Maryland and other states, some anti-abortion lawmakers are calling for regulations that they say the state health department has failed to provide.
Three bills respond directly to the case of New Jersey doctor Steven Brigham, who began late-term abortions in New Jersey and had patients drive to his Elkton clinic to finish the procedures. One such procedure in August led to the hospitalization of an 18-year old woman.
Delegate Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil, whose law office is within blocks of the Elkton clinic, said he crafted his legislation narrowly to avoid the controversy of taking on the legality of abortion.
"I'm not here to have a big fight over abortion," Smigiel said. "I want to stick to medical issues. If a woman is going to have an abortion, she deserves to live through the process."
Legislators, abortion opponents and abortion-rights advocates gathered Tuesday before the House Health and Government Operations Committee to testify on Smigiel's bills, and four others, regulating abortions. The proposed bills ranged in scope from the transportation regulations to one bill that would outlaw abortion in the state.
Smigiel's bills would require that abortion procedures that are started in the state stay in the state except in the case of an emergency, and that women who require transportation mid-procedure be moved by ambulance to a hospital. Another bill would require that doctors report abortions to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, including information like complications and injuries without identifying the patient or physician.
But abortion rights supporters say the legislation is designed to increase the cost of and limit access to abortions.
NARAL Pro-Choice Interim Director Melissa Kleder called the bills "a series of attacks on women's freedom and privacy," and said the health department has the objectivity, authority and expertise to regulate abortion.
The bills' sponsors and supporters say the department has failed to craft regulations as allowed under law since a 1992 referendum, leading to unsafe conditions for women seeking abortions.
"These things we read about in the newspapers are the exceptions, they're not the rule," said Wendy Kronmiller, assistant secretary for regulatory affairs at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene."We have to strike the right balance between access and safety."
Kronmiller said in the hearings that while the department does not regulate the abortion procedures themselves, the physicians who perform the procedures are regulated by the Maryland Board of Physicians.
One of the bills would require the department to craft and adopt regulations by January. Kronmiller said the department is already in the process of doing so, and will have regulations drafted by December.
Other bills heard include one sponsored by Delegate Adelaide Eckardt, R-Dorchester, and Delegate Pamela Beidle, D-Anne Arundel, that would require abortion clinics to comply with regulations for ambulatory surgical facilities, which are much more stringent than current regulations. A similar measure was recently passed in Virginia, which abortion rights advocates say will result in the closure of a majority of Virginia's clinics.
The most sweeping bill introduced is one sponsored by Delegate Don Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, that would define "personhood" in the Maryland Declaration of Rights to establish that the right not to be deprived of life is vested in all human beings from the beginning of their development. Dwyer's bill, similar to bills he introduced in 2009 and 2010 that failed in committee, would send the amendment to referendum, but will likely not make it to the floor of the House.