If Roe v. Wade is ultimately overturned, Maryland must become a sanctuary state for abortion | COMMENTARY

If U.S. Supreme Court justices indeed overturn Roe v. Wade and send the issue of abortion access back to the states — as promised by a leaked draft opinion obtained and published Monday by Politico — roughly half of the U.S. would act swiftly to end or significantly restrict the procedure. It would be a devastating rollback of reproductive rights affecting the country as a whole, through increased poverty, maternal mortality, reliance on social safety nets and poor socioeconomic outcomes for thousands of children.

Most of the bans would be in states in the South and Midwest, but among them could also be our neighbors: West Virginia, likely within the year, and, down the road, possibly Pennsylvania and Virginia, depending upon changing political winds. And that means Maryland, which this year expanded access to abortion, must throw its arms open wide to embrace any and all seeking to end an unwanted or unhealthy pregnancy. The stakes are enormous.


Before the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a federal constitutional protection to terminate a pregnancy in its 1973 Roe decision, illegal abortions were commonplace — and dangerous, killing hundreds of women per year and sending thousands more to the hospital. Low income women, often of color, and their families were the hardest hit then, being the least likely to have adequate access to birth control or able to accommodate an unplanned pregnancy. And they will be again under renewed restrictions, furthering the racial, economic and regional inequity that poisons America.

Being denied an abortion quadruples the odds of mother and child living below the federal poverty line, without adequate funds to pay for housing, transportation or food. It leads to poorer health outcomes for the women and a greater likelihood of maternal death: Bringing a pregnancy to term is 33 times more dangerous to the carrier than having an abortion. And it offers a bleak outlook for many of the children living in unprepared households; they are more likely to fare poorly in school, become a teen parent and be unemployed as adults. In fact, states with the most restrictive abortion laws have the worst maternal and child health outcomes, and are the least likely to invest in programs to support the health of women, children and families, according to a brief filed last year with the country’s high court.


That’s the irony in the abortion debate: Those set against it decry the procedure as murder, but their version of pro-life frequently ends in child neglect, or outright abuse, by institutions if not individuals. For many, the potential in a pregnancy is not hopeful, it’s horrific.

Improved access to birth control has led to a drop in the U.S. birthrate and the abortion rate, but the need is still overwhelming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 600,000 legal abortions were reported in 2019, with 93% of them occurring at less than 13 weeks gestation, proving the lie in conservative claims that women are routinely aborting late term pregnancies or, as then-President Donald Trump ridiculously tweeted in 2019, “executing babies after birth.” CDC data show less than 1% of all reported abortions in this country occurred after 21 weeks gestation (a typical pregnancy is 40 weeks), and then largely because of developmental anomalies in the fetus or threats to maternal health.

If half the states take away the option of abortion for women who would otherwise seek it, some people will turn to illegal means to end a pregnancy; others will carry to term and bear children they can’t properly care for, creating dire consequences for all; and those who can afford it will travel elsewhere, seeking solutions.

Recognizing this, California began positioning itself as an abortion sanctuary last year, proposing a number of measures that would make it easier for outsiders to obtain abortions there, including by providing funding for low-income women. Maryland, with three of its four border states potentially implementing bans, should follow suit.

State residents have long made clear they support access to legal abortion, voting protections into Maryland law in 1992, and expanding access to it through the legislature this year, by allowing more providers to perform the procedure and requiring health insurance plans to cover it. But during the past legislative session, lawmakers failed to advance an effort to enshrine such reproductive rights in the state Constitution, leaving it subject to political will. That must be rectified at the earliest opportunity.

While the Supreme Court’s draft opinion, written on behalf of the conservative majority, is not yet final and could still change before its publication in the next few months, the possibility that it will stand — along with its finding that Roe v. Wade was “egregiously wrong from the start” — should be a wake-up call to all that we can never stop fighting for our rights, regardless of how settled we believe them to be.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.