Hundreds of abortion rights supporters gathered in Annapolis Saturday to demand that Maryland’s well-established right to abortion stands and is expanded, citing other states curtailing women’s right to choose, which was established by a landmark Supreme Court decision that now hangs in the balance.
About a dozen Democratic elected officials — men and women — spoke to the crowd on Lawyer’s Mall, pledging to uphold abortion rights and promoting forthcoming bills to expand their reach when the General Assembly, which has a supermajority of abortion supporters, gavels in for the 2022 legislative session in January.
Still, lawmakers expressed concern about the impacts of new laws in Texas and Mississippi, which almost entirely curtail abortions, and noted that the Supreme Court’s historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is potentially in jeopardy when a conservative court begins its new term Monday.
“Texas and Mississippi, those laws are emboldening folks here in Maryland,” said Sen. Sarah Elfreth, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.
Kathy Killeen, 68, of Kent Island, said that, as a former Texas resident, she wasn’t surprised to see the state pass a law that banned most abortions. What shocked her was the Supreme Court’s decision to deny an emergency appeal from abortion providers.
“I feel so strongly in the right of women to choose safe abortions for themselves and I’m so frightened about the future of Roe v. Wade,” Killeen said.
She was among the abortion rights supporters who donned “Ban Off My Body” T-shirts and waved signs that read “Get your laws off my body” and “Our Rights, Our Bodies, Our Lives.” The group chanted about being bold advocates and giving women autonomy over their own bodies.
The group heard three first-hand abortion stories.
Baltimore resident Ashley Esposito told the crowd about having two abortions because of a rare genetic disorder, and how even in Maryland there were still hurdles she had to overcome.
Patrick Paschall, of Hyattsville, said he and his wife made the wrenching choice to get an abortion because they worried her life was at grave risk. Still, they tell some friends it was a miscarriage because of the stigma around abortions.
Meanwhile, Neatrice Holmes described woefully inadequate abortion care at a Maryland hospital, which she chalked up to being a Black woman. Her story, she said, is evidence that the state has a long way to go.
“We are not perfect right here in the state of Maryland. We have so much more to do,” Montgomery County Democratic Del. Ariana Kelly said. “We have good laws on the books and we have good people elected right now today.”
Kelly said its incumbent on lawmakers to eliminate the stigma of abortion, increase the number of providers and ensure that abortion is more affordable. Other lawmakers talked about renewing a push to add the language of Roe v. Wade to Maryland’s constitution, an effort that has failed in the past.
Addressing abortion rights in some capacity appears to have the support of the Democrats leading both chambers of the legislature.
The Chief of Staff for House Speaker Adrienne Jones, Alexandra Hughes, said moves by Texas and Mississippi to roll back abortion rights and the potential for Maryland’s neighbors to do the same has prompted talks about protecting a women’s reproductive rights.
“If we support a woman’s right to choose and West Virginia doesn’t, you have to think through how every woman can be protected regardless of their residency status,” Hughes said. Considering abortion already has statutory protection in Maryland, she said, legislation “will be more about who, when and how clinicians can provide abortion services.”
Hughes added the constitutional amendment, championed by the late House Speaker Michael E. Busch, “hasn’t been ruled out” though it’s being discussed with senate leadership.
Senate President Bill Ferguson was “alarmed” by the new law in Texas, his spokesman, David Schuhlein, said in a statement. “He is dedicated to protecting a woman’s right to choose and is exploring options to protect that right for this upcoming session.”
Laura Bodley, director of legislation for Maryland Right to Life, said her organization would push lawmakers to promote “positive alternatives to abortion,” creating health and safety protocols for medication abortions and eliminating state healthcare reimbursements for the procedures. On Sunday, she said Maryland Right to Life would participate in a gathering to “pray for the end of abortions and the healing of our nation.”
Growing up in a religious household in a low income, immigrant community in Southern California, Julisa Cortes felt like some people “twist the religious faith to oppose abortion.” It’s one of the reasons the 18-year-old Johns Hopkins University student attended the rally, along with seeing conservative lawmakers push back on coronavirus masking with arguments similar to those they reject for abortion, Cortes said.
“If they are going to say ‘My body, my choice,’ as it relates to wearing a mask, then why doesn’t it apply what women want to do with their bodies?” Cortes asked. She was inspired to hear what speakers like Del. Shaneka Henson, a Democrat representing Annapolis, had to say.
“As a Christian when I was thinking about and reading about what they did in Texas, it made me so angry because I’m so tired of seeing people manipulate and abuse the faithful to twist and contort their revenge against women,” Henson said. “If our creator put the gift of life in women, why wouldn’t he also allow women to use the brain and the skills he gave them to make decisions and choices about their own bodies?”