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Opinion Maryland’s decision to expand who can perform abortions is a leap forward

The Maryland General Assembly voted last weekend to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) veto of a bill that would allow advanced practice health clinicians to perform in-clinic abortion procedures (Brian Witte/AP)
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At a time when reproductive rights are under unprecedented attack across the country, Maryland took a significant step to increase access to abortion statewide. Not only will women in Maryland benefit from the forward-looking legislation that lifts outdated barriers on who can perform abortions, but also the expansion of access could help women from other states where laws are being passed to restrict or ban abortions in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling soon on a Mississippi case challenging Roe v. Wade. If the court — as abortion rights activists fear — rolls back or overturns the landmark 1973 decision-making abortion legal across the country, it is expected there will be an influx of women into states such as Maryland that are committed to keeping the procedure safe and legal.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly voted last weekend to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) veto of a bill that would allow advanced practice health clinicians — including nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants — to perform in-clinic abortion procedures, in addition to the medical abortions, using medication to end a pregnancy, that they already were allowed to do. The Abortion Care Access Act also expands Medicaid coverage for abortion, requires most private insurance to cover the procedure and establishes a $3.5 million program to train medical professionals in abortion care. The measure will take effect July 1.

In his veto message, Mr. Hogan cited concerns that the quality of reproductive health care for women will suffer if non-physicians are allowed to perform abortion procedures. But studies have consistently shown that safety is not compromised by allowing qualified licensed health professionals — who routinely provide pregnancy and other reproductive health care — to perform abortions. There is no difference in the risk of complications when performed by a doctor or a licensed provider. And contrary to Mr. Hogan’s assertion that “these procedures are complex, and can, and often do, result in significant medical complications,” abortion is a safe procedure and it is rare for women to suffer complications. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said a spokesperson, was “wholeheartedly supportive of this bill and actively advocated in support of it.” Fourteen other states already allow these licensed clinicians to perform abortions.

So it is good that Maryland is finally dropping its physician-only requirement and, equally significant, establishing a program to develop abortion care training programs. The Supreme Court is expected to rule in June on whether to uphold a Mississippi law that would ban all abortions after 15 weeks, If, as many predict, the court decides that states can limit abortions to the earliest stages of pregnancy or ban the procedure outright, at least 26 states — or half the country — are likely to severely limit access or prohibit abortion. States such as Maryland are preparing to become havens for women seeking places to go to get the care that they deem critical to their health and well-being.