Md. Abortion Rights Supporters Mobilize in Response to Alabama Ban

Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery) said pro-choice lawmakers in Annapolis are discussing their next move. Campaign photo

National abortion rights activists, alarmed that a handful of states have enacted extreme abortion bans in recent weeks, have called for a national day of action on Tuesday.

While details of the protests are still being developed, “I have emergency phone calls all day,” Diana Philip, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, an abortion rights group, said in an interview Thursday.

Pro-choice groups have set up a new website, http://www.stopabortionbans.org/, to update supporters on plans for next Tuesday.

The conversations among abortion rights supporters have accelerated since Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed a bill this week that would essentially outlaw abortion entirely and impose severe criminal penalties on medical professionals who perform the procedure. Activists on both sides of the abortion divide have acknowledged that the new wave of state laws are designed to get the Supreme Court to reconsider the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal in the U.S.

“Everybody’s agreed that we have to stop saying they’re chipping away at Roe – now it’s an assault,” Philip said.

In Maryland, abortion rights are enshrined in state law, thanks to a 1992 ballot initiative that passed overwhelmingly. Last year, then-House speaker Michael E. Busch (D) floated the idea of putting a question on the 2020 statewide ballot that would further protect abortion rights by placing them in the state constitution.

But Busch, who died on April 7, withdrew his proposal during this year’s General Assembly session, saying it made more sense to debate it next year, when other potential ballot initiatives will be on the legislative session.

Whether Busch’s proposal, which had more than 50 House sponsors, is resurrected in next year’s session remains to be seen.

Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), a leading abortion rights supporter in the legislature and chair of the House Health Occupations Subcommittee, said Thursday that since the session ended in mid-April, lawmakers have been discussing the best course of action to protect and enhance women’s reproductive health in the state.

“It’s an important conversation to have, even though it’s a painful one,” she said.

Even if Busch’s measure for a proposed constitutional amendment isn’t reintroduced, Kelly said, abortion rights supporters in Maryland feel secure about the procedure remaining legal and safe here – even as they are dismayed by what is happening elsewhere in the country.

“You have a lot of very powerful pro-choice leaders in both of those chambers of the legislature,” she said. “We have been talking about this for years. This is not a surprise, unfortunately. We’ve been prepared since [President] Trump was elected and since Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.”

While lawmakers discuss a legislative strategy, state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), said Thursday that in his capacity as vice chair of Maryland’s State Retirement and Pension System, he will seek to find out whether the state can pull its funds from any investments in Alabama companies.

Franchot said he would also ask that employees or trustees of the state retirement system refrain from traveling to Alabama under any circumstances – and would ask that any travel restrictions be extended to the entire Maryland state government.

“I obviously have no direct control over the behavior of Alabama lawmakers who would thrust their religious interpretations upon those they are paid to represent, and who choose to weaponize their system of laws to punish women who are already experiencing great vulnerability,” he said in a Facebook post. “However, I can work to ensure that Maryland’s taxpayer dollars are not used to subsidize extremism. Furthermore, experience has shown that MONEY is the one thing that matters more to people of this caliber than their religious prerogatives.”

Because Franchot largely lives his political life on social media, reaction to his suggestion was swift – and mixed. Some people who responded to his post wondered whether he would follow up and whether any travel or investment ban ought to be extended to other states that recently enacted harsh anti-abortion laws, like Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana. Some Republicans expressed disappointment, saying Franchot was the only Democrat they ever voted for but would have to rethink their support.

As Franchot is always reinventing himself politically, the move – regardless of the substance – will likely boost Franchot’s standing with liberal voters ahead of the 2022 election, when he may be a candidate for governor.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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