Md. Senate panel considers abortion reporting bill

ANNAPOLIS — Proponents of a bill to require hospitals and abortion providers to report the number of pregnancies they terminate argue the measure would improve women’s health care.

The bill, which the state Senate Finance Committee considered Wednesday, would require the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to collect demographic information including the age, race and marital status of women treated in Maryland.

DHMH officials say the reporting requirement would be “unprecedented” and that collecting the data offers no clear public health benefit.

But Sen. Barry Glassman, a Harford County Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said collecting the data would help the state better assess pregnancy rates and protect patients from unsafe practices.

“It’s a difficult issue for us,” Glassman told the committee. “But I tell you there is no valid reason why we cannot collect this data. It relates to the health and safety of women.”

The bill creates two reports, which would not be public records. One would track abortions and the other would collect data from women who appear to present complications from a previous abortion.

The reports would also include the estimated gestational age of the fetus at the time of the abortion and the number of prior pregnancies the patient has had, as well as an explanation of the “outcome” of those pregnancies.

A similar bill failed to gain traction in the legislature last year.

“We think that if this was not a politically charged topic, this data would be collected,” said Nancy Paltell, associate director of the Maryland Catholic Conference’s Respect for Life department. “It’s so obvious that it’s needed for women’s health, but because many do view this as a political hot potato there’s some reluctance to collect this data.”

Fran Phillips, deputy secretary for public health services at the DHMH, said the legislation does not lay out a clear plan for using the data to improve conditions in facilities that offer abortion.

Within the next several months, health department officials plan to release regulations for monitoring and licensing abortion clinics, she said.

“The bill asks for extensive information on the patient for which the bill does not make a clear public health purpose,” Phillips said. “We have in the state several data systems that give us very reliable information.”

Maryland does not maintain a registry tracking specific medical procedures, although some data can be obtained from insurance claims, and hospitals track why patients are admitted for payment reasons, Phillips said.

The state does not mandate health-care providers report other outpatient procedures.

However, doctors are required to report cases of infectious disease such as tuberculosis or Legionnaires’ disease.

Robyn Elliott, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, said the reporting law, while confidential, would intimidate women who already feel apprehensive about their decision to terminate a pregnancy.

“When we’re talking about talking with your physician about your pregnancy history, your history with contraception, that is so very sensitive and we are afraid that the idea that this data would be reported to the state would put a barrier between our patients and our physicians,” Elliott said.

The Finance Committee also took testimony Wednesday on legislation that would require physicians to provide abortion patients the opportunity to view the ultrasound image of an embryo or fetus if the ultrasound was performed as part of the abortion procedure.