For the second year in a row, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones has introduced a bill to allow Maryland voters to decide whether to enshrine access to abortion in the state constitution.
This time, she has the support of Senate President Bill Ferguson.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Ferguson said Tuesday.
Anticipating the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last summer to overturn Roe v. Wade, Jones introduced a similar bill during the 2022 session.
It would have allowed Maryland voters to amend the state constitution to ensure the right to “reproductive liberty.” As the bill defined it, that would have included the ability for a person to “prevent, continue or end their pregnancy” without interference from the state.
While the word “abortion” was not included in the bill, access to it was implied under the right to end pregnancy.
The House passed Jones’ bill 93-42, but when it reached the Senate Finance Committee, it never received a vote.
Asked ahead of the 2023 legislative session why the Senate neglected to take up the constitutional amendment, Ferguson said the Senate’s priority was passing the Abortion Care Access Act.
It expanded the number of abortion care providers in the state and requires the state to annually budget $3.5 million to fund a training program for clinicians interested in performing abortion services beyond medication.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the act during the 2022 session, saying it would endanger lives “by allowing nonphysicians to perform abortions.”
The General Assembly overrode Hogan’s veto before the session’s end, and the bill became law in July.
Democratic Gov. Wes Moore campaigned on a pledge to expand access to abortion and establish Maryland as a “safe haven for reproductive health care.” Ahead of his election in November, he said he would support legislation to protect abortion in the constitution.
Notably, in one of his first actions as governor, Moore released the $3.5 million afforded for training services under the Abortion Care Access Act.
Jones introduced her bill for this session on Monday. If it becomes law, the referendum would be held in 2024.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Moore, Jones and Ferguson will holding a news conference Thursday to announce a package of abortion protection bills, including the speaker’s legislation.
“In a post-Roe world ... the states are left, again, to make sure that we are protecting our populace and so that’s why this constitutional amendment is important,” Ferguson said.
In a text message to The Baltimore Sun, Senate Minority Leader Steve Hershey called Ferguson’s decision to cross file the bill this year “another sign that the Maryland General Assembly is becoming the playground of symbolic gestures. From the unconstitutional internet sales tax, to the toothless Climate Solutions Now Act, to today’s attempts to take rights away from law abiding gun owners.
“This Constitutional Amendment is unnecessary and only serves to placate those pushing the national progressive agenda,” said Hershey, who represents areas of Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s counties.
Maryland last year adopted a first-in-the-nation tax on digital advertising, but an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge struck it down last fall, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on states interfering with interstate commerce. The state is appealing the ruling.
The 2022 climate act accelerates Maryland’s transition from fossil fuels, setting goals to further cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and virtually eliminate the state’s carbon footprint by 2045.
A Senate committee held a hearing Tuesday evening on several bills that would further regulate Marylanders’ access to guns, including legislation to limit the sale and possession of guns and ammunition to people under 21, restrict firearms from being carried in public venues such as restaurants, and allow people to sue gun manufacturers and dealers for damages from “creating a public nuisance” by making and selling guns.