The national debate over Planned Parenthood funding spread to Maryland on Tuesday as Democratic lawmakers rallied in Baltimore and issued a letter urging Gov. Larry Hogan to commit to continued funding for the organization.
The Baltimore demonstration was one of more than 200 “National Pink Out Day” events to take place at Planned Parenthood centers across the country in an effort to push back against hard-line conservatives who insist that Congress should defund the organization or else shut down the federal government.
Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions and provides an array of women’s health services such as cancer screenings, family planning and testing for sexually transmitted diseases, is at the center of a controversy over fetal-tissue harvesting.
Activists donned pink shirts Tuesday and held signs saying, “Don’t Take Away my Care” and “Stand with Planned Parenthood.”
Speaking during the rally, Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a 2016 Senate candidate, criticized the Republicans in Congress who have tried to strip federal funding for the reproductive health group.
“They’re not entitled to impose their views on America and Maryland by threatening to shut down the government and hurt our economy,” Van Hollen said. “We’ve got a fight on our hands, but we’re going to prevail.”
Also on Tuesday, 74 Democratic members of Maryland’s legislature sent a letter to Hogan (R) saying he should not allow partisan budgeting gridlock to overtake Annapolis as it has in Washington. The lawmakers noted that most of the state Planned Parenthood funding goes toward community health initiatives that do not include abortion.
“These services are not controversial, and it would be extremely disappointing for you to allow the radical fringe of your own party to try to score political points at the expense of your constituents’ health,” the Democrats said.
The letter’s signers included Sens. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (Baltimore) and Richard Madaleno (Montgomery), along with Dels. Shelly Hettleman (Baltimore) and Ariana Kelly (Montgomery), all of whom spoke at Tuesday’s rally.
Nathan-Pulliam defended Planned Parenthood, saying the organization was there for her when she needed advice on birth control as a young wife and mother. “Having them council me on contraceptives was so vital,” she said.
Madaleno said he would work to ensure that “right-wing attacks” on Planned Parenthood stop in Washington. “With all of my colleagues here, we will make sure they never see the light of day in Annapolis,” he said.
At least two Republican state legislators have said Maryland needs to take a closer look at its Planned Parenthood funding. Earlier this month, Sen. Michael Hough and Barrie Ciliberti, both of whom represent parts of Frederick and Carroll counties, issued a letter to Maryland budget chief David Brinkley saying the state should find alternative ways to fund women’s health care without giving money to the organization.
For now, the governor appears content to avoid debate over the issue. When asked for a response to the letter, Hogan spokesman Matt Clark said only that the administration’s budget recommendations “won’t be published until January,” and offered no indication of whether the proposals will include state funding for Planned Parenthood.
Maryland has allocated about $3 million a year toward the organization in recent budgets.
Funding for Planned Parenthood has long been a contentious issue at the federal and state levels, and some Republican-controlled states have blocked the group from receiving taxpayer money.
The latest round of fighting stems from recent videos that show Planned Parenthood executives explaining how their clinics coordinate fetal-tissue donations from abortions.
Antiabortion activists say the clips prove that the group employs unethical practices, but Planned Parenthood denies any wrongdoing and contends that the segments were heavily edited to deceive viewers.