By VANESSA G. SÁNCHEZ
ANNAPOLIS –With the possibility that a conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court could nullify or dramatically limit women’s abortion rights, Democratic lawmakers have proposed laws in the General Assembly to create a bulwark against erosion. these rights in Maryland and to expand access to the process.
A proposal (HB1171) by House Speaker Adrienne Jones of D-Baltimore County would change the state constitution to guarantee women’s right to abortion. If approved by the General Assembly, voters would decide the issue in November.
Although abortion is protected under Maryland law, some Democratic lawmakers argue an amendment is needed to make it harder for a future governor or lawmakers to undo that protection.
Additionally, they say, the state should expand the ranks of medical professionals licensed to perform the procedure to include nurse practitioners and physician assistants, especially so that women in rural communities have greater access to abortions. Currently, only a licensed physician can perform the procedure.
The Abortion Care Access Act is sponsored by Del. Ariana Kelly, D-Montgomery, and companion legislation (HB937/SB0890) was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County. Kelley chairs the finance committee reviewing the bill.
The House scheduled Kelly’s bill and proposed constitutional amendment for floor debate on Wednesday.
Democratic supporters say they fear that if the Supreme Court strikes down or severely restricts laws that maintain the legality of abortion, abortion haters could try to limit the right in Maryland.
A dozen abortion-restricting bills have been introduced in the House by Republican delegates, including Del. Daniel Cox, R-Frederick and Carroll, who is running for governor. The bills have not yet been cleared by committees for full consideration by the legislature.
“Efforts to curtail women’s reproductive rights could increase significantly with an anti-abortion ruling from the Supreme Court,” Jones said.
“It is not hard to imagine a governor withholding critical public funding for a program in order to obtain concessions limiting public funding for the full range of reproductive services,” Jones told a hearing. . “It’s not hard to imagine a push to separate reproductive insurance coverage from standard plans.”
Lawyers say no matter what happens in the Supreme Court, Maryland is taking proactive steps.
To ensure that “whatever is thrown at us after Roe’s fall, we’re ready,” Lily Bolourian, executive director of Pro-Choice Maryland, said in an interview with Capital News Service.
Of the. Matthew Morgan, R-St. Mary’s and Del. Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, like some of their House Republican colleagues, oppose the legislation.
Kipke said state law already protects abortion and that passing such legislation is “an extreme and unnecessary step.”
“There’s no way the state of Maryland will pass a delegate’s bill that’s against abortion or wants to restrict abortion,” Kipke said Friday during the voting session on the bills. bills in the Health and Government Operations Committee.
Kelly has filed legislation to expand who can perform an abortion, to provide health care providers with training in abortion care, and to ensure that abortions are covered by insurers.
Democratic lawmakers have said Maryland needs to increase the number of providers because the state lags others in access. The disparity is more prevalent in rural areas, they said.
According to a 2017 report by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for abortion access, two-thirds of counties in Maryland have no abortion providers. As a result, women who live in rural communities must travel long distances to metropolitan areas to receive abortion care, advocates and health care providers said at legislative hearings.
Over the years, the number of abortions in Maryland has increased, but not the number of abortion providers, according to the same report.
A 2021 Capital News Service analysis found that there was only one abortion clinic in each of the central and southern regions of the state and on the east coast.
Kelly said her legislation would also help women in other states who seek abortion care.
Diane Silas, administrator of Hagerstown Reproductive Health Services, an abortion clinic in Hagerstown, western Maryland, said in an interview that the number of clients seeking abortion care at her facility from Pennsylvania, Virginia western and northern Virginia had increased over the years.
“As the laws have become more restrictive (in these states), we’re seeing more and more patients, and that’s always coming from rural areas,” Silas said.
She declined to provide a specific number of patients, citing security concerns.
Silas also said women in Cumberland, a rural community in far western Maryland, travel for hours to get to his clinic.
Kelly’s bill would also provide clinical training in abortion care. According to his proposal, the Maryland Department of Health would create the Abortion Care Clinical Education Program. The bill would provide $3.5 million a year to support the program.
The money would be awarded in the form of grants to community and hospital abortion providers and nonprofit organizations that have experience providing abortion services. At the time the bill is drafted, there is no provision targeting rural areas.
This legislation would also ensure that state-regulated insurance providers provide abortion care without requiring direct payment. Medicaid, which only covers abortions when a person’s life is in danger, in cases of rape and incest, would expand to cover abortions without restrictions.
Laura Bogley, legislative director for Maryland Right to Life, called the bills “radical politics.” The state should not subsidize abortion, she said, but rather invest in preventive care.
During the hearings and House committee voting session, Republican delegates said the constitutional amendment was open to abortion at any time and pushed to change the language to ensure abortions remain limited to 24 weeks. The committee approved the bill without amendment.