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Maryland Democratic leaders support Planned Parenthood funding bill

Democratic leaders in the Maryland General Assembly have a plan to maintain Planned Parenthood funding.

As Congress and the Trump administration move toward a possible cutoff of federal money for Planned Parenthood, Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly say the state should cover any funding loss.

Leading Democratic lawmakers are backing legislation that would require the governor to budget about $2.7 million to pay for non-abortion services offered by Planned Parenthood if federal officials cut funding. Dozens of women lawmakers turned out for the announcement at an Annapolis news conference — most dressed in red to mark International Women's Day. They were joined by male colleagues, many in red shirts and ties.

The bill has the support of Democratic leadership in both houses of the legislature, led by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

"If the federal government eliminates Planned Parenthood, someone's going to have to step up and it might have to be the state," Miller said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.

The legislation is part of a broader effort by Annapolis Democrats to resist President Donald J. Trump and to force Gov. Larry Hogan to make potentiality unpopular choices about how to respond to a new Republican administration.

Hogan, a Republican governor in a strongly Democratic state, has avoided hot-button social issues. But the legislation proposed by Democratic leaders would adopt a spending mandate of the type Hogan has staunchly opposed in recent years.

Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse gave a noncommittal response when asked the administration's position on the bill.

"Health care organizations have been consistently funded in each of the governor's three budgets," Chasse said. "Any future budgetary decisions will be made and announced at the appropriate time during the [fiscal year] 2019 budget process."

Planned Parenthood has become a target of Republican ire nationally because it is a leading provider of abortion services. But Karen J. Nelson, president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said that represents only about 10 percent of the organization's services in the state.

She said most of its services come under the heading of preventive health, including contraception, cancer screening and detection and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases for men and women.

Nelson said that if funding for Planned Parenthood is cut off, 25,000 patients in Maryland could be affected.

"It's very nerve-racking for us right now," she said. "This has nothing to do with abortion. ... We do not use federal funds to pay for abortion services."

The Planned Parenthood leader said that under federal law, the money used to provide abortions is kept strictly separate from the money that pays to provide other health care.

Opponents such as state Sen. Michael J. Hough don't buy that argument.

"They try to claim the money is segregated, but it's just like [in Annapolis]. It's never segregated funding, it's all over the place," the Frederick County Republican said.

Hough said he's prepared to support funding for women's health services, but not for Planned Parenthood as long as one of its services is abortion.

His position echoes that of the Trump administration, which recently suggested it would support additional funding for Planned Parenthood if it stopped performing abortions. The national organization rejected the offer.

Planned Parenthood supporters, including Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, drew a partisan line in the sand during the Wednesday news conference.

"I'm proud to stand with these great delegates and senators against Donald Trump's war on women," said Frosh, a Democrat.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., the bill's Senate sponsor, said the legislation has "very broad support" all over Maryland.

"There are tens of thousands of Marylanders who depend on Planned Parenthood for their care," the Montgomery County Democrat said. "The state's stepping in to continue those services, principally for poor women."

Del. Shane Pendergrass, the House sponsor, said providing funding would be important to public health, including control of the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

"This is about protecting the citizens of Maryland and keeping them in good health," the Howard County Democrat said.

The measures being discussed in Washington take aim at Planned Parenthood's funding under the federal Medicaid program and Title X family planning programs. The state legislation would create a provisional spending mandate starting in the budget the legislature will consider next year.

If the federal spigot is turned off, Madaleno said, the bill would provide about $2.7 million to continue Medicaid services and the Title X family planning education program.

Among those supporting the bill is Mirah Ippolito, 28, of Baltimore. She said that six months ago she went to Planned Parenthood in the city to have an intrauterine device put in for birth control.

Ippolito said that when she went to her gynecologist for the procedure, she instead received an admonition that the IUD was a form of abortion.

"I thought it was incredibly unprofessional to say that to a patient," Ippolito said. "I was being judged for a decision I had made as an adult woman."

When she turned to Planned Parenthood, Ippolito said, it was a "wonderful experience" by comparison.

"As a patient you are never made to feel ashamed in any way for the health care you're seeking," she said.

Anna Kephart described a similar experience. The La Plata woman, 29, said she found out the man she'd been seeing was married. After she broke up with him, she found he left her with a sexually transmitted disease.

Kephart said her primary care physician turned cold when she described the situation and failed to diagnose her disease.

But when she turned to Planned Parenthood, she said, its doctors quickly diagnosed and treated her infection without passing judgment.

"I have found the care to be so kind, so thoughtful and really focused on my needs and my situation," she said.

Judging by its number of co-sponsors, the legislation has enough support to win passage in both houses of the General Assembly. It is less clear whether Democrats would be able to override a veto by Hogan.

Opponents of the legislation will not have the support of the Maryland Catholic Conference, which is sitting out the fight.

Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the group, said it doesn't oppose the bill because it would only replace federal funding for existing family planning with state funding.

She said its requirements are the same as those under the federal law barring the use of the money for abortion.

"If the bill were amended to include funding for abortion, we would vigorously oppose it," Russell said.

mdresser@baltsun.com

twitter.com/michaeltdresser

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