Nearly a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years. Our patients in Maryland experienced uncertainty and concern after the ruling as other states began to enact a myriad of abortion restrictions. Meanwhile, reproductive health care providers scrambled to establish a network of referrals to help patients get care in states where abortion remained legal.
As Maryland physicians and advocates for our patients’ health, we are focused on maintaining access to an essential and proven standard of care. Though the changing legal landscape can be disorienting, we want it to be clear to our patients: Maryland remains a state where abortion is safe and legal.
Because Maryland is protective of this basic health care, we have seen an influx of patients from other states who have sought abortion care here. A patient from Florida found out at a routine ultrasound at 21 weeks of pregnancy that her fetus had a severe skeletal disorder. She was referred to our hospital because we could offer her autonomy in choosing among the full spectrum of management options, including an abortion.
The patient had to save money for child care, fly from Florida to Maryland and find lodging in Baltimore, all while processing a devastating diagnosis. We are privileged to have been able to honor her decision for what was best for her health and her family. Still, we know there are many people like her who will never be able to receive care because they lack the support and resources to travel outside their restrictive states.
In addition to the multitude of restrictive state laws, abortion care has recently been threatened by multiple lawsuits aiming to eliminate the availability of a safe and effective medication abortion drug, mifepristone. Abortion using medications is the most common method of abortion in the U.S. and is preferred by many. Mifepristone has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for more than 20 years and has very few risks.
A patient recently sought a medication abortion with us. She was nine weeks pregnant, confused by the current lawsuits against mifepristone and unsure if she could still get a medication abortion. We assured her that medication abortion using mifepristone is still legally available in Maryland and subsequently provided the care she needed.
As we gave her that assurance, the Supreme Court ruled to preserve access to mifepristone. Luckily, even before this decision, Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown released a statement confirming full protections for mifepristone access in Maryland, emphasizing the prioritization of medication abortion access for Marylanders.
Clinicians alone cannot protect abortion access; we depend heavily on our legislators to pass important laws that ensure abortion access continues. Maryland lawmakers have very recently passed several measures to protect essential reproductive health care. Last year, the Abortion Care Access Act was passed, allowing nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants to provide abortion care and requiring that public medical assistance programs and many private insurance plans cover abortion care services.
Additional bills have been passed to ensure health care providers’ and patients’ privacy and rights to provide and receive reproductive health care without fear of legal recourse. This includes a shielding bill that protects abortion providers from out-of-state criminal charges and lawsuits and a bill that requires institutions of higher education to provide 24/7 access to over-the-counter contraceptives, including Plan B.
Furthermore, Gov. Wes Moore has released $3.5 million to develop training programs for additional abortion care providers to expand abortion access across our state. Next year, Maryland citizens will also have the opportunity to vote in the general election to enshrine legal protections for abortion into the state constitution. While we cannot entirely predict what legal battles lay ahead, we believe Maryland will be prepared to provide its citizens with the reproductive health care we all deserve.
Sorting through misinformation and keeping track of the frequent changes in national and state abortion laws can be overwhelming, but we want to emphasize that patients should continue to communicate and clarify any questions with their health care providers. Marylanders can rest assured that abortion is legal in our state and that ensuring access remains a priority for many of our lawmakers. Abortion is an essential health care service that can be safely and effectively accomplished with medication or with a procedure. Thankfully, many health care providers and legislators throughout the state are working tirelessly to provide and expand abortion care and stay ahead of challenges yet to come.
Drs. Rachel Jensen, Jessica K. Lee and Diana Carvajal are physicians at the University of Maryland Medical Center.