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Politics

Despite pleas, Maryland Gov. Hogan won’t release funds early to train more abortion providers statewide

Despite pleas from some Maryland Democratic lawmakers and officials, Gov. Larry Hogan does not plan an early release of $3.5 million in funds set aside for training additional clinicians to perform abortions in Maryland before doing so is required next year.

The money came attached to a state law passed this year that allows medical providers other than physicians to perform the procedure, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants and midwives. Hogan, a Republican, vetoed the bill, but his veto was overturned by the Democratic legislature.

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The new law takes effect July 1, but the funding for training under the law isn’t be required to be in the state budget until the fiscal year starting a year later in July 2023.

The statewide training money must be apportioned starting with next year’s budget, but some lawmakers have called on Hogan to use his discretionary powers to release the first round of funding sooner, following the leak of a draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court indicating a majority of justices favor overturning Roe v. Wade, a 1973 decision that essentially legalized abortion across the United States.

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“The governor firmly believes, as stated in his veto of this partisan measure, that non-licensed physicians should not be performing these medical procedures,” Hogan’s spokesman, Michael Ricci, said in an email. “Suddenly releasing taxpayer dollars for this purpose would run counter to those concerns about setting back the standards for women’s health.”

The president of the Women’s Legislative Caucus of Maryland urged Hogan on Thursday to release the funds, and called on all gubernatorial candidates to pledge to release the funds if they take office in January.

“Within several months if not weeks, we may be one of the few safe states within reach for women as far away as Texas,” wrote caucus president Del. Lesley Lopez, a Montgomery County Democrat. “We cannot desert any woman … who needs abortion care services.”

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat running for governor, wrote Hogan’s office Wednesday, arguing the funds are needed “to ensure that our state has enough health professionals to meet the expected increased need” for abortions if Roe is reversed.

“Especially considering the majority of abortions are conducted by medication, we should immediately and safely train health professionals through programs with these funds,” Franchot wrote.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group that supports abortion rights, about 54% of abortions nationally were induced with medication in 2020 — the first time since the institute began collecting research on the subject that such abortions accounted for a majority of the procedures performed in the U.S.

In a statement Wednesday, Hogan’s spokesman accused Franchot of “campaigning on the taxpayer dime.”

“In the height of tax season, when our office is receiving dozens of calls each week from frustrated Marylanders seeking assistance from the Comptroller’s office, it is deeply concerning to see he is distracted,” Ricci wrote.

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Meanwhile, some private clinics already are preparing more of their workforce to do the procedure, including Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said Kyle Bukowski, chief medical officer for the women’s health organization.

Del. Ariana Kelly, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the legislation allowing non-physicians to perform abortions, and requiring certain insurers to cover the procedure without co-payments, called Hogan’s decision not to release the funds early “unconscionable.”

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“I know that this has gotten caught up in election year politics, and that’s unfortunate, but the right thing to do is release the money,” Kelly said.

If the Supreme Court releases an opinion matching the draft, first reported Monday night by Politico, “trigger laws” banning abortions, except in certain cases, could go into effect immediately in states near Maryland. States including Kentucky and Tennessee have trigger laws, and states such as Ohio and West Virginia are likely to ban abortions in the absence of Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

As a result, people seeking abortions in those states could be coming soon to Maryland in greater numbers, increasing wait-times for Maryland residents. Delays in abortions can impact the complexity of the procedure significantly.

“That’s when the pressure on our providers starts,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t make sense to delay that a year and a half if we know that.”

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Waiting until next year to fund training efforts is too little, too late, Kelly said, even if the governor elected in November opts to release the funding upon taking office in January.

The Maryland Department of Health, which is tasked with finding a nonprofit to run the program, needs to know when the money is likely to arrive so that it can begin the process, Kelly said.

“They need to know to put this on their to-do list,” she said.


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