(The Center Square) – The renewed focus on abortion procedures nearly a half-century after its legalization in the U.S. has come to Maryland as lawmakers on both sides of the issue introduce more than a dozen bills this legislative cycle.
House Delegates sitting on the Health and Government Operations Committee held a lengthy four-hour hearing Friday and took testimony on each of the 13 bills. Nearly all of the pieces of legislation included comments from proponents and opponents.
The committee did not take definitive action on any of the bills, but will vote on a later date with favorable or unfavorable recommendations on each one as they flow through the state’s different legislative channels.
There were a few pointed exchanges between elected officials and speakers, particularly for House Bill 1230, legislation Delegate William Wivell, R-Smithsburg, has sponsored. The bill would prohibit the use of sharp instruments for fetal dismemberment, unless an emergency warranted it.
Robin Elliott, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Maryland, provided testimony on a number of the bills.
In the case of HB 1230, Elliott said Planned Parenthood was in adamant opposition because the bill would affect second-trimester abortions. She also said the bill could be challenged as unconstitutional and would provide risks to patients’ health.
During a question-and-answer session, Delegate Sid Saab, R-Crownsville, asked, “Does Planned Parenthood feel this method is humane?”
In response, Elliott said, “So, Delegate Saab, I think the question before this committee is whether or not this is a valid clinical method and allowable under medical standards. It is. I do not think that the question about what people think about a particular procedure is particularly germane to this hearing.”
Saab, in the exchange, said, “Well, I appreciate you not answering the question.”
Elliott also was asked if she believed a developing fetus had the ability to feel the pain of sharp instruments through dismemberment procedures.
“I am not a clinician, but my understanding from the clinicians that I have spoken to is that the discussion about fetal pain is not backed by any of the clinical evidence,” Elliott said.
House Bill 0626 is another piece of legislation that garnered lengthy testimony at the recent hearing. Delegate Nicole Williams, D-Greenbelt, is sponsor of the bill, which would provide new layers of legal protections for women terminating a pregnancy – including the recipient and any practitioners or other professionals involved in the procedure.
Lisae Jordan, executive director and counsel with the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, was among the speakers who favored HB 0626.
“Abortion access is a critical piece for rape survivors. (The bill) will protect the people who help survivors,” Jordan said. “We need to make sure these survivors have access to the care they need.”
Ella Ennis, legislative chairwoman of the Maryland Federation of Republican Women, offered a different take on the bill. In her testimony, she expressed concern with the use of the term “perinatal,” which commonly refers to late-stage periods in the womb and 7 to 28 days after birth.
“This bill not only eliminates any restrictions … but it also eliminates any penalty,” Ennis said. “Our children are our future. They are all precious. This legislation is evil.”
Some of the other abortion-related pieces of legislation under the microscope in Maryland include House Bill 1317, which pertains to informed consent, and House Bill 0050, which would place new requirements for licensed hospitals, hospital directors and hospital governing boards for pregnancy terminations and similar procedures.