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Abortion rights advocates push for Md. lawmakers to approve legislation in upcoming session

The District 30 Democratic Club held a discussion on abortion Sept. 21 at the Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library. The participants on a panel from left to right: Michael Spivey, constitutional law professor at the University of Maryland; Del. Nicole Williams (D-Prince George’s); and Erin Bradley, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Maryland. Photo by William Ford.

Part of the District 30 Democratic Club’s meeting on Wednesday night transformed into a small history class on abortion, one of the most hot-button topics in Maryland and the nation.

The club’s vice president Sharon Blugis moderated the discussion at the Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library and told the audience that abortion had been legal in the U.S. during roughly the first half of the 19th century.

Some of the history she summarized is also detailed by Planned Parenthood, a health care provider and abortion rights organization, in a timeline that notes, as Blugis did, that midwives performed the procedure in the early 1800s.

By the early 1900s, the practice was banned in every state, with few exceptions.  And, at the urging of the American Medical Association, it was performed only at the discretion of and by physicians, most of whom were male.

In 1969, the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) became the first group to champion abortion rights.

Today, Maryland is one of few states with strong pro-abortion laws — including one approved this year to expand insurance coverage and provide abortion care.

The Abortion Care Access Act also dedicates $3.5 million for training health care professional such as midwives, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, but the money won’t be available until next year. Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who is term-limited, vetoed the bill. Still it became law after the legislature overrode his veto. But Hogan refused to release the money sooner.

House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) sponsored legislation during this year’s session to place a question on the November general election ballot asking voters whether to amend the state constitution to include the right to access abortion services. That bill stalled in the Senate Finance Committee.

“I’m just overall pissed at the Senate,” said Blugis, an abortion rights advocate in Anne Arundel County who blamed Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) for not addressing the topic during an election year.

Because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, states are empowered to pass anti-abortion laws.

Ferguson told Maryland Matters in August that by passing the Abortion Care Access Act, “we did what was most important and that’s what we knew we could get done.”

A post-Roe world

Erin Bradley, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Maryland, summarized what’s happening in other states.

Earlier this month, the South Carolina State Senate rejected a total abortion ban. A judge temporarily blocked setting a six-week window for allowing an abortion, leaving the current 20-week (post-conception) limit in effect.

The Indiana legislature approved a nearly full ban on abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and certain medical emergencies. It went in effect Sept. 15. However, a judge ruled Thursday to block the ban and allow abortion procedures to resume. Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) said in a statement he plans to appeal.

Although abortion remains legal, up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, in Virginia and North Carolina, some conservative lawmakers in those states continue to consider approving stronger anti-abortion laws.

“This highlights how fluid abortion rights are right now. It’s all over the place,” Bradley said Wednesday. “Maryland is the southernmost state where abortion is considered to be protected.”

That’s why Del. Nicole Williams (D-Prince George’s) continues to work on comprehensive legislation to present when the 90-day legislation session resumes in January.

Williams joined Bradley and Michael Spivey, a constitutional law professor at the University of Maryland in College Park, to participate in a panel discussion titled “The Future in a post-Roe World.”

Williams sponsored a bill this year to protect health care providers from civil and criminal penalties for providing abortion and other health care to patients. However, her bill didn’t make it out of the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

Williams isn’t sure whether she’ll reintroduce that bill in next year’s session. Another measure she may offer would protect licenses of health professionals who provide abortion care.

“We’re taking a comprehensive look at everything…and what we should be doing here in Maryland to make sure Marylanders are safe and those who come to Maryland are going to be safe,” she said.

Spivey called Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion to overturn Roe “disingenuous, cynical and demeaning. There’s no respect for women in that decision.”

Spivey summarized what he called some “myths” in Alito’s opinion that include abortion not being part of the American landscape, the court correcting a judicial wrong by comparing the historic case of Brown vs. Board of Education and the decision gets the court out of the abortion debate.

He said Alito even cites a 13th century case as part of his argument.

“How that’s relevant to the U.S. Constitution is beyond me,” said Spivey, president of the South County Democratic Club in Anne Arundel. “This is a political court. You can’t hide from that anymore. We as Democrats have to stand up and say, ‘Enough of this. We’re done.’”

Howard County expands abortion care

In a related development, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) announced Thursday his jurisdiction will provide $1 million over three years to expand reproductive services for students who attend Howard Community College.

The funding will create a pilot program between the community college and the county health department to extend hours of operation, offer telemedicine and other services.

The added services are slated to be phased in over several months at the community college clinic.

“Reproductive health care has become weaponized across our country, especially since the repeal of Roe v. Wade. As County Executive, I will continue to unequivocally support the right for women to use their own voices and make their own choices for their reproductive health care and family planning needs,” Ball said in a statement. “The program we are announcing today will prioritize preventative reproductive care for women and increase health care services for all.”