Bill to expand Maryland abortion access heads to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk

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Health care workers besides physicians could start performing abortions in Maryland and the procedure would be covered without cost by most insurance plans in the state under legislation passed by the General Assembly this week and is now headed to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk.

The Abortion Care Access Act received broad support from Maryland Democrats, who hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, and was passed over fervent objections from Republican lawmakers who oppose abortion on moral grounds.


The legislation, which also earmarks $3.5 million in annual funding for training medical professionals to provide abortions, is one of two major pieces of abortion legislation introduced in the General Assembly this year in response to efforts to severely restrict access to abortion elsewhere in the country.

The U.S. Supreme Court, with a new 6-3 conservative majority, is weighing whether to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that banned states from outlawing abortion.


But the other major proposal — a bid to enshrine access to abortion in the state constitution as part of a “fundamental right to reproductive liberty” — failed to advance in the Maryland Senate. The bill would’ve put the proposed amendment on the ballot for voters to approve during the November general election.

The constitutional amendment has the personal backing of House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, and easily passed the House of Delegates. But Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore City Democrat, indicated last week that he wouldn’t bring the amendment up for a vote, effectively killing the proposal.

Ferguson said Tuesday that the legal right to an abortion “is not something that is contested here in the state of Maryland,” but that actual access to abortion care is. Ferguson, who backed the legislation to expand access, said the Senate’s passage of that bill is the only time senators will take up the contentious issue during the current legislative session, which ends April 11.

It’s unclear whether Hogan, a Republican, plans to veto the legislation to expand access to abortion. Hogan has previously said he personally opposes abortion but called it “settled law” in Maryland. In 1992, voters statewide approved guaranteeing the legal right to abortion under state law with 62% of the vote.

A spokesperson for Hogan did not respond to questions about his stance on the abortion access legislation.

Supporters argued there are not enough abortion providers in Maryland and that costly insurance deductibles make it unaffordable for many women. Sponsors, including Sen. Delores Kelley of Baltimore County and Del. Ariana Kelly of Montgomery County, said those barriers too often undermine the legal right to decide to obtain an abortion.

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Nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants would be able to provide abortions under the legislation, while all insurance providers — except for those with legal exemptions, would be required to cover abortions at no charge to patients, such as cost-sharing fees or deductibles.

Many of those medical professionals already provide care throughout pregnancies, Kelley said, so safely performing abortions is well within the scope of their medical practice. Kelley noted that the legislation won’t change the legality of any particular procedure, but said it respects and empowers women to make private, personal decisions.


Funding restrictions influenced by politics, especially in conservative states, currently limit training opportunities for doctors on abortion care, said Sen. Clarence K. Lam, a Baltimore County Democrat and a physician, who argued that the bill’s state-funded training is a necessary counterweight.

Opponents decried it as a radical step for a state that, in the words of Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga of Baltimore County, “already has some of the most liberal abortion laws in place.”

Republican Sen. Justin Ready of Carroll County called the bill “reckless and wrong” and argued Maryland has ignored “common-sense guardrails on abortion” like restrictions on the procedure late in pregnancies. Ready and other opponents objected to dedicating taxpayer dollars to abortion training.

“This bill takes Maryland’s already liberal abortion laws to the extremes,” said Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, an Eastern Shore Republican. Carozza argued expanding the range of providers would place “Maryland’s women’s health at risk.”