Some things to know about Maryland's constitutional amendment for abortion rights

Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch announced plans Saturday to withdraw his legislation seeking to enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution.

Here are a few things to know about the issue:


Why do some legislators want an abortion rights amendment?

Women’s abortion rights have been firmly protected under Maryland law since voters in 1992 decisively passed a referendum question protecting freedoms gained under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. However, that referendum did not write that decision into the state’s constitution, where it would be more difficult to dislodge.

In Maryland, a state constitutional amendment requires a three-fifths vote in each chamber of the General Assembly, followed by approval from the voters in the next general election.


Are abortion rights divisive in Maryland?

The 1992 referendum vote essentially moved the abortion issue to the margins of Maryland Democratic politics for more than 25 years. But new concerns have arisen among Maryland abortion rights advocates since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and President Donald Trump’s appointment of U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanagh to the high court.

In recent years, pollsters haven’t bothered to ask about the issue because it seemed to be settled in Maryland. Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said the last polling on the issue she has seen from Maryland was from 2006. At the time, she said, 63 percent of voters favored abortion rights.

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Busch said he’s proposing the referendum because he remembers how divisive the issue was before lawmakers let voters decide in 1992. He said he’s concerned the matter could be thrown from the federal government back to the states.

So why did Busch withdraw his abortion amendment legislation?

Alexandra M. Hughes, the top aide to Busch, said the Anne Arundel County Democrat realizes the legislation cannot pass both chambers of the State House this year, so he plans to reintroduce the measure in 2020.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, has said for months that he doesn’t expect any proposed constitutional amendments — such as abortion rights or legalized marijuana — to pass this year because it’s the Senate’s tradition for ballot measures to be considered in the year they go before voters. The next statewide election is in 2020.

What’s next for the proposed amendment?

If approved by the Maryland General Assembly, consideration for a state abortion rights amendment would then pass to voters for consideration.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan would not have a vote on or a veto over legislation that would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. He would only have his individual vote in the referendum itself.

Hogan has not spoken publicly on whether he would support the substance of the amendment, but a spokesman for the governor’s campaign said that while Hogan doesn’t know that a constitutional amendment is necessary, he is comfortable with the idea of putting it on the ballot and trusts that voters would make the right decision.


Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater, Michael Dresser and Lillian Reed contributed to this article.