Abortion — an issue that has been muted in Maryland politics — resurfaced Tuesday when Democrat Ben Jealous questioned Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s commitment to women’s reproductive rights as President Donald J. Trump prepares to nominate a Supreme Court justice who could threaten Roe v. Wade.
The Democratic gubernatorial nominee challenging Hogan in the November election issued a statement criticizing the Republican’s record on abortion after the governor declined to take a position on the looming Supreme Court struggle during an interview with Washington’s WTOP radio.
Hogan said he wants to wait and see whom Trump nominates before commenting on the president’s choice.
“We don't need to wait and see as Larry Hogan suggests, we need him to reassure Marylanders that despite his own troubling past on women’s reproductive health, he will have the courage to protect Maryland’s values,” Jealous said in the statement.
Hogan spokesman Scott Sloofman rejected Jealous’ comments as “desperate scare tactics.”
“The governor’s record is clear, four years ago he pledged that he would never alter Maryland’s reproductive health laws and he hasn’t,” Sloofman said. “Maryland state law protects a woman’s right to choose, and that will never change under Larry Hogan regardless of any Supreme Court decision.”
Jealous, a former NAACP president, is betting that the abortion issue has more power to motivate Democrats then it did four years ago because of the recent announcement that Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring. Kennedy has been the key swing vote on the nation’s highest court on abortion issues.
Advocates of abortion rights are gearing up for a battle because they fear Trump will nominate a justice who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that established a woman’s right to an abortion.
The Democratic effort to use the abortion issue flopped in 2014, when party nominee Anthony Brown repeatedly ran ads warning that Hogan would infringe on abortion rights solidified in Maryland law in a 1992 referendum in which voters rejected restrictions on the procedure before the fetus is viable.
Hogan beat Brown with a campaign that focused on economic issues and promised to steer clear of conservative positions on social issues.
Over the last four years, Hogan has stuck to that strategy. Sloofman said he would continue to do so.
“Voters know that the governor has kept his promise to protect Maryland law and he will continue to do so,” he said.
But Jealous suggested the governor’s assurances on the issue can’t be trusted. He pointed to Hogan’s decision in 2017 to let a state bill become law without his signature that assures state funding for Planned Parenthood if it loses federal funding. Jealous also questioned positions Hogan took on abortion long before his run for governor.
“Hogan needs to publicly affirm that he will not take any action to undermine Maryland’s law protecting a woman’s right to choose,” Jealous said in the statement. “Given Hogan refused to sign legislation protecting Planned Parenthood funding, and his prior advocacy to ban abortions even in cases of rape or incest, we have every reason to be concerned about his commitment to protecting our current laws."
Jealous trailed Hogan by double digits in polling before the June 26 primary. Melissa Deckman, who chairs the political science department at Washington College, said the Democrat has little to lose by raising the abortion issue.
“I can’t blame Ben Jealous for doing it. It’s a little bit of a stretch in this case,” Deckman said. She noted that Hogan has not introduced any measures in the General Assembly that would curb access to abortions.
“I don’t look at Hogan as someone who will radically change policy with respect to reproductive rights,” Deckman said. But for Jealous, she said, it’s crucial to maximize progressive turnout, so “riling up the base” may be a sound strategy.
In his radio interview, Hogan pointed out that Maryland’s law would remain in effect even if a new Supreme Court majority were to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“It wouldn’t affect Maryland because Maryland already has laws that would protect those rights as they are, so even if there were changes to the Supreme Court, which I don’t think there would be, nothing would change in Maryland,” Hogan said.
Hogan’s stance on abortion has led to some grumbling among the fiercest opponents of abortion. Maryland Right to Life declined to endorse him, though the organization backed other Republicans who were also unopposed in the primary.
Social conservatives who hold elected office have generally given Hogan a pass on the issue.
Del. Neil Parrott, an anti-abortion Western Maryland Republican, said he’d like to see a governor who is more conservative than Hogan on the issue. But he still called Hogan a “wonderful” chief executive and dismissed Jealous’ criticism as “a desperate attempt by a far, far left liberal who’s trying to gain some traction” against a popular governor.