In his first joint news conference with legislative leaders, Democratic Gov. Wes Moore announced support for a package of bills Thursday that would provide protection for patients seeking abortions and their providers for decades to come.
“We’re going to make sure that Maryland is a safe haven for abortion rights long after I am governor of this state,” the new Democratic governor declared. “That’s the importance of today.”
Moore, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson gathered outside the old House and Senate chambers in the State House to formally introduce the package of four bills:
- One seeks to protect abortion providers and their patients from criminal, legal and administrative penalties brought by states with more restrictive laws. It’s sponsored by Del. Terri Hill of Howard County, a doctor; Del. Nicole Williams of Prince George’s County; and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith of Montgomery County;
- Another would provide Maryland college students with access via their schools to emergency contraception and abortion services. Its sponsors are Baltimore Del. Stephanie Smith and Health and Government Operations Vice Chair Ariana Kelly of Montgomery County in the House, and Sen. Brian Feldman of Montgomery County;
- A bill that would require patients’ permission for the release of medical records relating to abortion, sponsored by Del. Sandy Rosenberg of Baltimore and Sen. Shelly Hettleman of Baltimore County, and
- Legislation sponsored by Jones and Ferguson to enshrine access to abortion in the state constitution. It would send the question to voters statewide in a 2024 referendum.
Moore declared that he would sign all of the bills, if they make it to his desk.
Last summer, a U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down legal precedent set by the landmark Roe v. Wade case, leaving states to determine their own policies regarding abortion access.
“Maryland’s reproductive freedom has historically been protected by layer, and it’s been a layer of Maryland law, of Maryland’s constitution, of federal law and also the U.S. Constitution,” Moore said. “But, unfortunately, as we saw in real time, the U.S. Supreme Court no longer recognizes that the fundamental right to privacy protects our ability to make our own reproductive health provisions, leaving the decision to regulate abortion up to individual states without individual and constitutional protections.”
According to Hettleman, “in less than a year” since the Supreme Court acted, abortion has been banned in 14 states. Another 12 are either about to establish bans or undergo legal challenges to their laws ensuring access to abortion.
“Let me say this: it doesn’t matter what Texas, West Virginia or any other state does,” Jones said. “They will never dictate what Maryland does.”
Maryland enacted a law in 1991 allowing abortions to be performed until a fetus reaches viability, considered to be at about 24 weeks. After that, abortions can be performed only if there’s a fetal anomaly or to protect the health of the pregnant person.
A ballot referendum codified the law in 1992, guaranteeing Marylanders maintain access to abortion regardless of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The late House Speaker Michael E. Busch put forth an effort to enshrine abortion access in the state’s constitution in 2019, but withdrew the bill. Jones got a bill passed last year in the House, but it did not get a vote in the Senate Finance Committee.
Moore — “from the very beginning,” he said — has promised Maryland would be a “safe haven” for abortion access. He had expressed support earlier for the speaker’s proposed constitutional amendment.
Jones’s bill seeks to amend the state constitution to ensure the “fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” including the ability to “prevent, continue or end one’s own pregnancy” without interference from the state. Though the word “abortion” is not in the bill, its protection is implied under the right to end pregnancy.
This year’s bill is nearly identical to the one the House speaker put forth last year, but it now has garnered support from Ferguson.
“This amendment to our constitution affords the highest level of protection against the attacks on reproductive liberties and bodily autonomy,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson was asked repeatedly at the news conference about why the proposed constitutional amendment didn’t advance in the Senate in 2022.
He said it was “absolutely essential” last year in light of the pending Supreme Court decision to throw the chamber’s political weight behind the Abortion Care Access Act. It expanded Maryland’s number of abortion providers and requires the state to annually budget $3.5 million to fund a training program for clinicians interested in offering abortion services beyond medication.
Ferguson said state protection under the constitution for abortion “wasn’t necessary last year,” but vowed several times to pass it this year.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Laura Bogley, the executive director of Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization, told The Baltimore Sun in an email that the bills in the package would put lives in danger.
“Abortion activists occupying the legislature have removed abortion from the spectrum of health care and repealed all safeguards for women,” Bogley wrote. “By putting their extreme abortion politics before patients, they have made Maryland a safe harbor only for abortionists, but unsafe for women and children.”
In a statement, Baltimore County delegates Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki and Harford County Del. Lauren Arikan, all Republicans, said “Maryland’s current abortion laws are radical and should not be enshrined in our constitution.”
“Maryland has some of the most extreme abortion laws and services in the entire country,” they wrote. “This proposed constitutional amendment is nothing more than a political ploy to scare voters for next year’s election.”
The House Republican Caucus rejected the idea of the constitutional amendment in a statement, saying “most Marylanders would prefer a middle course on this issue.”
In a poll of likely voters by Baltimore Sun Media and the University of Baltimore ahead of the November election last year, 71% said Maryland should guarantee the right to abortion in the state constitution.
The Senate Republican Caucus criticized the bill package in a statement, saying “apparently, last year’s bill that created a massive expansion of abortion services was not enough. … we are certain that becoming the abortion capital of the United States is not something to aspire to or be proud of.”