Bill to protect abortion under Maryland constitution escapes House floor amendments

The Maryland House of Delegates came one step closer Wednesday to passing legislation that would allow voters to constitutionally secure the right to have an abortion.

The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, and Democratic Senate President Bill Ferguson of Baltimore would allow Marylanders to vote during the 2024 election to enshrine access to abortion in the state constitution.


The legislation will be debated on the Senate floor later this week. The House gave it preliminary approval Wednesday, but not without attempts to amend the bill on behalf of the Republican Party.

House Bill 705 would guarantee to “every person ... 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 a pregnancy.


Del. William Wivell, a Republican representing Frederick and Washington counties, offered two amendments. The first would have provided voters the opportunity to enshrine reproductive freedom “and life” for all Marylanders, including fetuses, which he called “the preborn.”

The amendment would have struck from the bill a provision that sought to ensure the protections to “make and effectuate decisions to prevent, continue, or end one’s own pregnancy.”

Wivell said that the bill as drafted “picks winners and losers” — the winner in his view being someone who is pregnant who decides to get an abortion. He also argued that it “allows for the destruction of the preborn,” who he said are developing their own reproductive systems.

According to a 2018 paper published by the journal Differentiation, the human female reproductive tract is considered to be in “advanced development” at 22 weeks. Under Maryland law, abortions may be performed until a fetus reaches viability, considered to be at about 24 weeks.

Wivell also made a religious appeal to adopt his amendment, quoting from Jeremiah 1:5 in the Bible: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”

“God has a plan for each of our lives and God has a plan for the preborn child, as well,” he said.

The amendment failed on a vote of 35-96.

Wivell’s second attempt at amending the bill would have swapped out the wording of a right to “reproductive freedom” to specifically use the word “abortion.”


“I ask this body to be absolutely clear to voters what they are voting on: An amendment for abortion,” he said.

House Health and Government Operations Committee Chair Joseline Peña-Melnyk, a Democrat representing Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, called his definition of what the bill would enshrine “too narrow.”

“This is a very narrow view of what reproductive freedom means,” she said, noting that it would protect Marylanders’ rights to become pregnant, buy condoms and other contraception, and pursue in vitro fertilization treatments, among other measures.

Wivell’s amendment failed on a vote of 36-99.

Republican Del. April Fleming Miller, a freshman from Frederick County, offered a final amendment to replace the word “person” in the bill with “woman.” She said the current language is “too vague,” and could lead to men forcing people to have abortions.

“With taking out the word ‘woman,’ as has previously been used in Maryland law and the courts … what are the unintended and the intended consequences?” Miller asked.


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Some people who do not identify as women have the ability to become pregnant.

Peña-Melnyk said the intention of the bill is to “provide the highest level of protection” for everyone’s reproductive rights, including those of men who may be seeking vasectomies or looking to buy condoms.

“Who in here can tell me of a single case where a man has been denied a vasectomy or condoms?” asked Del. Lauren Arikan, a Republican from Harford County.

Arikan said that it’s important for women to be recognized.

“We are separate, we are different ... but we’d like to be acknowledged,” she said.

The amendment failed on a vote of 38-97.


The House is poised to pass the bill later this week.

For the record

This article has been corrected to show that the research on the human female reproductive tract was published in the journal Differentiation. The Sun regrets the error.