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Democrats put on a muscular show of support for abortion rights measures

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D), Gov. Wes Moore (D), and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) stood with nearly 100 lawmakers on Feb. 9 to show support for a package of reproductive rights legislation. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

While there has been little doubt that Maryland leaders would seek to strengthen abortion protections during this General Assembly session, the point was reinforced Thursday when dozens of the state’s top leaders, including Gov. Wes Moore (D), came together for a raucous State House news conference to endorse a four-bill reproductive rights legislative package.

Several speakers, including Moore, Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D), the presiding officers of the House and Senate, and two of the bills’ chief sponsors, discussed the urgency to act since the U.S. Supreme Court dismantled abortion rights with its Dobbs decision last summer. It was the first joint news conference of the legislative term for Moore, House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City).

“As long as I am the governor of Maryland, our state will be a safe haven for abortion rights,” Moore, who was flanked by close to 100 Democratic lawmakers, asserted, to enthusiastic applause. “But the importance of today and the importance of all these leaders is this: We’re going to make sure that Maryland is a safe haven for abortion rights long after I am governor of this state. That’s the importance of today.”

Even before the Dobbs decision came down, Maryland lawmakers moved last year to bolster access to reproductive care, by expanding the list of medical professionals who can provide abortion services. But Moore’s predecessor, former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed the measure — which was later overridden by the legislature — and then refused to release $3.5 million in funds for training that the legislation provided.

Moore released the money on Jan. 19, his first full day in office.

“There’s nothing like having a friend on the second floor [of the State House] on these issues,” said Del. Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery), a leading abortion rights advocate in the legislature, gesturing to Moore.

With a Democratic governor for the first time in eight years, and Democratic supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, passage of all the abortion measures is all but assured, even though many Republicans are expected to vote against them.

While Marylanders enshrined abortion rights in state law with a statewide vote 30 years ago, advocates are now seeking to pass a constitutional amendment to further protect abortion from any national bans on the procedure or attempts to intrude on states’ decisions to protect reproductive health services.

“It is most the important thing we need to do this year in this space,” Kelly said.

The House passed such a measure, sponsored by Jones, last year, but it became bottled up in the state Senate, as leaders there feared a lengthy election-year debate on abortion late in the session would tie up other key measures. But this year, Ferguson is sponsoring the cross-file to Jones’ bill mandating a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment on Election Day 2024.

“We’re going to pass it this year,” he vowed Thursday.

The other three abortion bills under consideration are:

  • A bill from Dels. Nicole Williams (D-Prince George’s) and Teri Hill (D-Baltimore County) and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith (D-Montgomery), designed to provide protections for women from out of state who seek abortions in Maryland and the medical professionals and clinics that provide them. Lawmakers said there is anecdotal evidence that more women from states that have banned abortions are coming to Maryland seeking the procedure;
  • A bill from Kelly and Del. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore City) and from Senate Education, Energy and Environment Committee Chair Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery), ensuring reproductive health services to students at public colleges and universities;
  • And a bill from Del. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City) and Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) designed to protect the health care and insurance information and other relevant data of people who seek abortions in Maryland.

“It will provide an extra layer of protection in terms of revealing providers’ and patients’ personal information,” Hettleman said in an interview. The bill is written in such a way that it would specifically protect abortion-seekers and providers but not every patient in the state.

“We’re fencing off certain reproductive care,” Hettleman said.

Shortly after the Democratic news conference, which was held in the State House lobby, the House Republican Caucus released a statement questioning the rationale behind the legislation.

“Maryland simply does not need a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to an abortion,” the statement said. “Moreover, we believe that most Marylanders would prefer a middle course on this issue, and permitting late-term elective abortions — as this amendment appears to allow — is outside the mainstream views of our citizens. The General Assembly’s time and energy would be better spent on addressing the issues that will truly improve the lives of our citizens: reducing crime, improving education, and strengthening our economy.”

Separately, GOP delegates from District 7A in Baltimore County, Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki and District 7B in Harford County, Lauren Arikan, issued a statement calling the push for a constitutional amendment “nothing more than a political ploy to scare voters for next year’s election.”

“Maryland’s abortion laws already permit abortion on-demand for the entire nine months of pregnancy,” the lawmakers said. “Late-term abortions are done in Maryland. Insurance companies must pay 100% for abortions. Your minor daughter can get an abortion without parental notification or consent. Taxpayers pay for abortions in Maryland. Maryland’s current abortion laws are radical and should not be enshrined in our constitution.”

And Senate Minority Leader Steve Hershey (R-Upper Shore) and Minority Whip Justin Ready (R-Carroll) accused Annapolis Democrats of practicing performative progressivism.

“While we have yet to fully vet the additional bills proposed today, we are certain that becoming the abortion capital of the United States is not something to aspire to or be proud of,” they said.

Jones said the legislature’s experience with Hogan and abortion legislation served as a reminder that Democrats and abortion rights advocates “can’t take anything for granted.”

“When Gov. Hogan held up the funding [for abortion training], it was clear that the legislature can pass laws, but that there are limitations,” she said. “Ultimately, the governor has the final say on how those laws are carried out.”

But like Kelly, she noted the opportunities that working with a governor from the same party will provide Democratic lawmakers.

“It’s a new day in Annapolis,” she said. “This is our first news conference and it demonstrates our willingness to work together.”


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Democrats put on a muscular show of support for abortion rights measures