- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

ANNAPOLIS A bill introduced yesterday in the General Assembly has put Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in his first major political battle over state abortion rights.
The bill by Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford Republican, requires a judge to decide whether a minor needs her parents' consent before having an abortion.
"It is obviously an attempt to limit young women's access to abortion," said Wendy Royalty, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Maryland. "I have no doubt [Republicans] will do it in other areas to further limit access to abortion."
The Maryland affiliate of NARAL Pro-choice America, a national abortion rights organization, has taken an identical stand.
Mr. Ehrlich supports stronger parental notification but has said he will not move aggressively to upset the balance between the state's pro-life and pro-choice camps.
Still, his tolerance for tighter abortion laws has given hope to lawmakers whose pro-life legislation has been routinely vetoed by a series of Democratic governors.
"I'm sure they are encouraged," Miss Royalty said.
After reviewing the Jacobs bill, Mr. Ehrlich said through a spokesman that he will not push for changes to abortion laws but will consider signing such legislation passed by the General Assembly.
About 3,300 women ages 15 to 17 have abortions each year in Maryland, according to Planned Parenthood.
The Jacobs bill would mandate that a court decide whether to waive parental notification for unmarried women younger than 18. Existing law allows physicians to decide.
The court also could waive parental notice if the woman was subjected to physical, sexual or emotional abuse by her parents, or if the judge determines she was mature enough to make the decision alone, according to the bill.
If the court makes no ruling within 48 hours, the minor can automatically bypass the parental notice. And a physician could skip parental notice and the court decision when a medical emergency requires the immediate termination of a pregnancy, the bill states.
It also prohibits coercing a minor to have an abortion, and it makes public-assistance benefits available when parents deny financial support to their daughter because she refuses to have an abortion.
"Maryland is the only state that allows the doctor performing the abortion to bypass parental notice," Mrs. Jacobs said. "It is important whenever we can to involve parents in the life-changing experiences of their children."
Mrs. Jacobs also said the bill will not lead to further restricting access to abortion. "This is not the camel's nose under the tent," she said. "This is not the first step. … Parents need to be involved in their children's lives, especially in serious medical procedures."
The court oversight clause exists in 33 other states with parental-notice laws.
The Jacobs bill and a House companion bill byDelegate Carmean Amedori, Carroll Republican, have Democratic and Republican support, but they face opposition from leaders of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, opposes abortion restrictions and has kept such legislation off the Senate floor.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, is the first pro-choice speaker in 16 years, but it is not clear how his stance will influence House proceedings.
"I don't see it as a move to overturn Roe v. Wade," Mrs. Amedori said.
She thinks the bill will fail in the Judiciary Committee because it is stacked with pro-choice delegates but would do better in the Health and Government Operations Committee, which has enough pro-life lawmakers to put it before a full House vote.
Mrs. Amedori said that she would not try to sway Mr. Busch.
"I only want [the bill] to go to a committee in a timely way," she said. "And I want the process to work. All we are asking for is that they play fair."

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