We live in confusing and scary times as the future of reproductive health becomes murky and unclear. We are witnessing a coordinated and aggressive political agenda to restrict birth control, ban abortion and overturn Roe v. Wade. This month the Trump administration dismantled the nation's only family planning program serving 4 million low-income patients, and Planned Parenthood officially withdrew from the Title X program.
In Maryland, however, regardless of ability to pay, patients should be reassured that birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, and abortion will continue to be available at Planned Parenthood clinics.
We are moving dangerously close to a post-Roe world in which more than 25 million women of reproductive age (1 in 3) will live in states where abortion is outlawed. Nearly 73 percent of Americans support safe and legal abortions, yet 16 states have voted to ban abortion, and more than 290 anti-abortion laws are pending in 45 states.
If there is a bright spot in this complex and terrifying political landscape it is that here in Maryland we are not only way out ahead of the curve in terms of protecting women’s health, our state-wide reproductive health care system is a model for the nation.
We are truly fortunate because even if Roe is struck down, our state law guarantees access to abortion. In a referendum a quarter of a century ago, voters upheld a law that makes abortion legal even if Roe is overturned. We are one of 11 states to ensure safe and legal abortions no matter what the Supreme Court does.
Maryland has the best and most comprehensive contraceptive coverage in the country. We were the first state to mandate contraceptive coverage and we have taken important, often bi-partisan, steps to expand insurance coverage and funding:
1991 - General Assembly codifies Roe in state law
1992 - Maryland voters overwhelmingly support legal abortions
1998 - Health insurance is required to cover birth control
2016 - Legislature passes the most comprehensive insurance coverage of contraception in the nation:
- Eliminates co-pay for birth control
- Provides gender equity, covering vasectomies without co-pay
- Lifts pre-authorization requirements for IUDs and implants
- Provides coverage for over-the-counter contraception like Plan B
2017 - State agrees to fund family planning grants if a federal “gag” rule is imposed to prevent reproductive health providers in the Title X program from referring patients for an abortion, regardless of the patient’s own wishes
2018 – Women can get 12 months of birth control at one time · State employee insurance benefits expanded.
- Medicaid family planning expanded including easy same-day enrollment
- Pharmacists authorized to prescribe birth control
2019 – State will withdraw from Title X under “gag” rule; Planned Parenthood and local community health clinics will continue to provide free and low-cost services.
Maryland is an example of what can happen when the public and the policymakers support Planned Parenthood and encourage Planned Parenthood clinics to not only survive but thrive.
However, as good as we are today we can always be better. Health outcomes can and must be improved. There is more to do to reduce barriers to health care and expand access to birth control, but here in Maryland we should be proud that our elected officials consistently support policy that keeps high quality reproductive care affordable and accessible for everyone.
In America a woman’s right to control her health care is suddenly and dangerously at risk and on the line. From total bans on abortion to the attack on Title X, abortion opponents are waging everything they’ve got as part of their massive war on women’s access to reproductive health care. This is not a drill. This is a true crisis, and we are in for the fight of our lives.
We need your help. We need the collective power of this community to stand strong against these attacks to outlaw abortion. The time to organize, rally, and fight back against the abortion bans we’re seeing is now. Together, we can protect all women’s access to safe and legal abortion and reject these attempts to strip us of our reproductive health and individual rights. Get involved. Donate what you can. Write letters. Call your elected officials. Join a voter registration drive. Get loud on social media. Support your local Planned Parenthood.
Karen J. Nelson is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland. Her email is CEO@ppm.care.