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Maryland Democrats seek to create ‘safe haven for abortion’

Joining other blue states, Maryland leaders push constitutional protections and more privacy rights for abortion patients and providers

(Mark Gail/The Washington Post)
5 min

Maryland’s top Democrats said Thursday they want to make “a safe haven for abortion,” joining a wave of blue states escalating efforts to protect patients, providers and access to the procedure.

“We are going to make sure that Maryland is a safe haven for abortion rights long after I am governor of this state,” Gov. Wes Moore (D) said at a joint news conference. He joined the years-long quest of House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) to have voters enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, fortifying protections in state law as federal ones erode.

The effort, stalled in years past, took on new urgency after the U.S. Supreme Court relegated abortion policy to the states and at least a dozen, including neighboring West Virginia, banned the procedure. The push for more abortion protection in Maryland arrives just as Democrats have expanded their supermajorities in Annapolis.

“Reproductive care must be a right enshrined in our constitution so that it could never be up for debate or used as a bargaining chip,” Jones said at a news conference in the State House.

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“It doesn’t matter what Texas or West Virginia or any other state does. They will never dictate what Maryland does. They will never dictate the rights of Marylanders.”

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), whose chamber did not advance an amendment passed by the House last year, joined Moore and Jones in vowing to send it to voters next year, as well as passing three other abortion-related bills that would require access to contraception on college campuses, insulate providers from prosecution and limit disclosure of abortion-related data.

“The world has changed” since federal protections under Roe v. Wade were overturned by the Supreme Court last summer, Ferguson said. “In a post-Roe world, Maryland has a responsibility to lead and be a beacon for freedom.”

Democratic-led states across the country — primarily on the West Coast and in the Northeast — have enacted dozens of measures to enhance abortion protections in recent months, a counterpunch to the wave of antiabortion laws that followed the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned a federal right to abortion.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights think tank, states enacted 77 abortion protections in 2022, the highest number ever passed in one year. Abortion rights activists are tracking constitutional amendment efforts in a dozen states. In Maryland, abortion rights have broad support: An October 2021 poll by Goucher College found 88 percent of residents said abortion should remain legal, though half of those people believe there should be some limits to the procedure.

California was an early leader in fortifying abortion rights last year, including requiring college campuses to provide birth control and forbidding tech companies from responding to subpoenas seeking data related to out-of-state prosecutions for abortion.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta testified to Maryland policymakers in Annapolis this past fall about how to protect digital information about abortion if it is sought for prosecutions in states where the procedure is not legal. One of the bills pitched Thursday, which advocates described as “wonky,” would make it difficult for abortion-related health-care records to be accessed without explicit patient consent.

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In 2022, as some antiabortion lawmakers elsewhere contemplated prosecuting residents who cross into states where the procedure isn’t banned, prosecutors in Baltimore and Prince George’s County vowed not to prosecute or cooperate with any investigation into helping women seek abortions.

Maryland is the southernmost state on the East Coast with explicit abortion protections.

Maryland already has among the country’s more protective abortion laws: The procedure is allowed for any reason up until viability, and afterward in several circumstances, including to protect the woman’s mental health and if there is severe fetal anomaly.

The state last year increased access to the procedure by allowing medical providers other than physicians to perform abortions. And on his first day in office, Moore released $3.5 million designated to train new providers, cash that his predecessor, Republican Larry Hogan, refused to spend.

After federal protections were overturned, two women opened a rare later-term clinic in College Park that offers services for people more than 21 weeks pregnant.

Republicans in the House and Senate, who do not have enough votes to stop united Democrats, objected to furthering abortion rights.

“Maryland simply does not need a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to an abortion,” the House Republican Caucus said in a statement. “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 Senate Republican Caucus added: “We are certain that becoming the abortion capital of the United States is not something to aspire to or be proud of.”

Moore vowed to sign the new protections proposed Thursday, and the presiding officers of the General Assembly promised to get them passed.

The constitutional amendment needs three-fifths majority approval in both chambers to advance to the 2024 ballot. If that happens, it would be the second time Maryland residents vote on abortion rights. The current protections in state law were approved in a 1992 referendum, passing with 63 percent of the vote.