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Opinion: Across Ideologies, Marylanders Want to do More for Families. Which Candidates Can Make That Happen?

The Maryland State House. Photo from stock.adobe.com.

By Chris Crawford

The writer is a Catholic activist from Silver Spring, Maryland. He has written for Real Clear Politics, Our Sunday Visitor, and Millennial Journal.

In the coming weeks, the Office of the Comptroller is expected to put forth guidance on a change in the tax code that allows Marylanders to deduct up to $1,000 of their income tax liability for donations of diapers or menstrual products to qualified nonprofits. The deduction also applies to monetary donations earmarked for those purposes. This legislation was sponsored by legislators from usually adversarial ideologies, and could serve as a blueprint for bipartisan action on behalf of women, girls and babies.

This legislation was sponsored by a Democratic delegate, Dana Jones, who is a former staffer at EMILY’s List — one of the nation’s most powerful pro-choice organizations — and Sen. George Edwards, a Republican from Cumberland who has been frequently endorsed by Maryland Right to Life.

At first glance, this may seem like a rare instance in which Marylanders on all sides of the abortion issue can come together to support a pro-family policy. The fact is that there were laws passed in 2021 that were supported by NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and the Maryland Catholic Conference — two organizations that are diametrically opposed on the issue of abortion.

This legislation included SB 427, requiring public middle and high schools to provide free sanitary napkins and tampons for female students; and SB 438, requiring the Maryland Department of Education to develop a model policy to support educational goals of pregnant and parenting students. In recent years, both organizations also supported HB 616, specifying that a student’s absence from school due to pregnancy or parenting needs is a lawful absence.

As candidates for governor campaign around this state, they should be challenged by voters across the abortion divide regarding how they can make Maryland the most supportive state in the country for families of all economic situations. The fact that Maryland has one of the highest abortion rates in the country represents a failure to support families in this state, regardless of our opinions on the legal right to abortion. We should demand better. That demand should be bipartisan.

Major structural changes already have the backing of NARAL and the Catholic Conference. Each has testified in favor of paid family and medical leave and in expanding both the monetary investment and the range of qualified recipients of the Prenatal and Infant Care Grant Program. Structural changes have the backing of a broad cross-section of Marylanders.

A January poll found that 91% of Maryland voters believe workers should be able to take time off for a serious need, and 77% — including 68% of Republicans — even supported paid family leave when informed that the plan would cost each worker $3-$6 per week. In addition to these major issues, the next governor will face the opportunity to implement and build upon Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan’s $72 million commitment to decrease maternal mortality in the state of Maryland — especially bringing down the staggering rate of maternal mortality among Black women.

Candidates for governor should be pressed on all of the ways they can transform our economic, educational, health care, and criminal justice systems to provide better outcomes for pregnant women and their children.

The stereotypes that dominate our politics — that pro-life people are only “pro-birth” and that pro-choice people are better defined as “pro-abortion” — do not apply to the vast majority of Marylanders or Americans. While I was disappointed by the passionately pro-choice statements expressed by some of the Democratic candidates for governor during a recent forum at St. Ignatius Church in Baltimore, I hope that whoever serves as our next governor will reach beyond their political base to get results for Maryland families.

As candidates of both political parties continue to lay out their platforms and make their case to Marylanders, they should be pressed on how they can make Maryland the best state to have and raise children. As they lay out their ambitious policy agendas, they must also be asked an important follow-up question that is often overlooked: How will they bring together Marylanders across divides to make those plans a reality? How will they build a broad coalition to prioritize these important issues?

The candidate whose tent is big enough to include those with whom they disagree will be the candidate worthy of the office.