Just weeks from the start of voting in Maryland, Democratic congressional candidates hope to capitalize on opposition to South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s newly proposed nationwide abortion ban — an issue that can be politically problematic for Republicans in such a blue state.
Maryland Democrats pounced on the Republican senator’s legislation, which would prohibit doctors nationwide from performing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. His bill, introduced Tuesday, elevated an issue that many analysts believe benefits Democratic candidates by motivating their party’s voters to turn out in support of abortion rights.
“By introducing this legislation, Republicans have made clear that their true objective is the control of women’s health decisions, not the defense of states’ rights,” said Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, who is running in the 3rd Congressional District that includes Howard County and parts of Anne Arundel and Carroll counties.
Attorney Yuripzy Morgan, a former political talk show host and the Republican nominee challenging Sarbanes, disputed in an interview the characterization of many Democrats that Graham’s legislation is “extreme.”
“The extreme would be the opposite of what Lindsey Graham is saying, which would be a total ban on access,” she said.
“I am not in favor of banning all abortions. I am in favor of reasonable access,” she said. “When I say the ‘extremes,’ I mean the side that says zero access, to the side that says you could be walking into a hospital in labor and then decide you want to have an abortion. Most people are in the middle.”
Flavio Hickel Jr., an assistant political science professor at Washington College in Chestertown, said Graham’s proposal may have been ill-timed for the GOP.
“It’s pretty clear Senate Republicans felt blindsided and were not pleased with the timing,” Hickel said.
Another analyst, Todd Eberly, said Graham’s proposal “is not what Republicans need. Most Americans have a nuanced view on abortion. The idea of 15 weeks and there’s nothing allowed after that is still pretty hard core,” said Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland,
Abortion can be politically tricky for Republicans in Maryland. That’s because the Democratic Party, which favors abortion rights, maintains a 2-1 voter registration advantage in the state.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a second-term Republican, has repeatedly referred to abortion as “settled law” in Maryland while personally opposing it.
Nicolee Ambrose represents Maryland on the Republican National Committee and is the party’s nominee to challenge Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger in the 2nd Congressional District. When asked Wednesday by The Baltimore Sun about Graham’s bill, she similarly framed the issue around states’ rights.
“Marylanders decided the abortion matter 30 years ago by ballot referendum. Washington should not interfere with our state’s rights and Marylanders have spoken,” Ambrose said.
Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County resident first elected to the 2nd District two decades ago, called Graham’s bill “an attempt to score political points at the expense of women’s health by taking personal health care decisions out of the hands of women and their doctors.” The district includes chunks of Carroll and Baltimore counties, as well as a piece of Baltimore City.
In Maryland, a person is permitted to have an abortion up to the point where the fetus is viable outside the womb, considered at about 24 weeks, and later to protect the health or life of the pregnant person or for a fetal anomaly.
The state’s law codified the protections of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that had made abortion a constitutional right until the court overturned it in June, allowing states to set their own laws.
A national abortion ban like the one Graham proposed would supersede Maryland’s law.
“We’ve always known that tearing down Roe was only Part One of their plan — and that next they’d attack these rights for women everywhere. Lindsey Graham’s bill does just that,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Van Hollen, who is up for reelection, said he was determined to fight such bans.
His Republican opponent, Chris Chaffee, did not return messages seeking comment.
Graham’s legislation has not been embraced by Senate Republican leaders and is almost certain not to pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate or House. The congressional session ends in early January, but the measure could be reintroduced in the new Congress. A ban could be approved in the future, based on the outcome of Republicans’ efforts to take control of Congress in the November elections and the White House in 2024.
“When you look at the state of Maryland, people here recognized, fortunately, that Maryland was sort of leading the way in terms of protecting those [abortion] rights by laws that were passed by the General Assembly,” said U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore, who is seeking his second full term since returning to Congress to represent the 7th Congressional District.
But Mfume said the GOP’s latest attacks on abortion rights would bypass states’ laws, such as Maryland’s, and pose “a grave concern.”
Future such abortion restrictions, he said, would “disproportionately affect those women who are Black and brown and white and Asian in this country who are not economically in a position to assist themselves.”
Maryland Policy & Politics
Mfume’s Republican opponent, Scott Collier, did not respond to email messages.
Seven of Maryland’s eight U.S. House members are seeking reelection. Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown is stepping down in the 4th Congressional District to run for state attorney general.
The only Republican member of the congressional delegation, Rep. Andy Harris, did not return messages left with his campaign and Capitol Hill office.
Harris tweeted after the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade that the court “got it right.”
In 2021, he co-sponsored the “Life at Conception Act,” which would block abortions at all stages of pregnancy without exceptions.
His opponent, former state delegate and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur (pronounced miz-EER), is hoping for a sizable turnout of abortion rights supporters motivated by the Supreme Court’s June decision, and perhaps by media attention about Graham’s bill.
“It’s always been clear that anti-choice forces would stop at nothing short of a nationwide ban, despite claiming it should be an issue for the states to decide,” she said.