On the 51st anniversary of the now-overturned Roe v. Wade decision that had legalized abortion nationally, advocates launched their push to solidify reproductive choices in Maryland’s constitution.
Standing outside the Maryland State House on a chilly but sunny winter day Monday, they outlined plans to ensure that voters know they’ll see a question on the ballot this fall about reproductive rights, and that — in their view — voters should vote “yes.”
“Marylanders overwhelmingly demand their bodily autonomy and reproductive rights,” said Erin Bradley, chair of a ballot committee supporting an amendment to the state constitution solidifying reproductive rights, including the right to abortion.
The “vote yes” coalition brought political heavyweights to their launch and has organizational muscle behind their campaign.
Monday’s event was headlined by House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a longtime supporter of reproductive rights who sponsored the bill that put the question to voters on the ballot. She was joined by Dawn Flythe Moore, wife of Gov. Wes Moore.
Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, noted that while other states have rolled back abortion protections following a 2022 Supreme Court ruling, “Maryland has stood strong.”
“If the events of the last 18 months have taught us anything,” Jones said. “It is that we can’t take anything for granted when it comes to reproductive healthcare.”
The coalition recently organized itself as an official ballot issue committee called Freedom in Reproduction — Maryland, with leaders who have worked with organizations such as Planned Parenthood Maryland, the Baltimore Abortion Fund and the Women’s Law Center of Maryland. The group just started fundraising efforts to pay for advertising and voter awareness efforts.
Maryland law has protected the option to continue or end pregnancies since a state law codifying Roe v. Wade was upheld by voters in the 1992 election with 61.7% support. One of the supporters in the “vote yes” crowd was Del. Sandy Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat who held a framed picture of himself speaking in support of that law more than three decades ago.
Following the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the Roe v. Wade, Maryland lawmakers and advocates wanted to add an extra layer of protection. They passed a bill asking voters on the ballot to enshrine those same rights by adding an amendment to the Maryland Constitution.
The language that would be added to the state constitution would declare that “every person ... has the fundamental right to reproductive freedom.” And that freedom includes, but is not limited to, “the ability to make and effectuate decisions to prevent, continue, or end one’s own pregnancy.”
If the amendment is approved by voters this fall, it will continue the status quo of abortion care being legal in the state. It’s much more difficult, however, for a constitutional amendment to be undone compared to overturning a law.
Keeping abortion legal has had strong support in Maryland. Before Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, a statewide poll conducted by Goucher College in partnership with The Baltimore Banner found 60% of Democratic voters and 18% of Republican voters supported keeping abortion legal in all circumstances. The same poll found 28% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans supported keeping abortion legal in certain circumstances.
Dawn Flythe Moore said she discussed the need for the constitutional amendment with her husband, Gov. Wes Moore, who lent his support to the effort to get the language on the ballot. “We both know there are plenty of people who want to roll back our rights,” she said.
Maryland’s leaders and lawmakers are “doing the right thing today” in supporting abortion and reproductive care, she said, but it’s not known what the state’s leadership will think 20 or 30 years down the line. “There’s always going to be someone out there looking to turn back the clock,” she said.
The coalition brought supporters out to the state’s capital city, including Ren Culbreath, a 20-year-old advocate from Middle River. As a queer, nonbinary teen, they were able to seek birth control to suppress menstrual cycles — a decision protected by state law that should be strengthened with constitutional protection, they said.
“If this law isn’t settled, what else isn’t?” they said.
And Dr. Kari Alperovitz-Bichell, a primary care physician from Annapolis, said she’s disappointed that reproductive care is under attack.
“During my practice, I’ve earned the trust of patients who have faced impossibly difficult decisions relating to their pregnancies,” she said. “But now, we have politicians and men across our country who think they know better than doctors and our patients. And they’re trying to take away our rights. Maryland: We have to vote ‘yes’ this year.”
While the “vote yes” campaign is getting off the ground, there’s also opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment in the form of a group called Health Not Harm MD.
The group is chaired by Deborah L. Brocato, a former nurse and registered lobbyist for Maryland Right to Life. In an interview, she said the proposed amendment is riddled with legal problems that voters should know about.
She noted that the amendment applies to all Marylanders, not just adults, and covers all reproductive choices, not just abortion. She said that minor children don’t necessarily have the wherewithal to make “life-altering decisions” such as having an abortion, and that parents should be involved in such a decision.
“It’s just too vague and it should not apply to minor children,” Brocato said.
Health Not Harm MD has a website up and running but plans to raise money to eventually send out direct mail and place radio and TV ads.
“I don’t think we will be able to compete with the amount of money the other side will get,” she said. “But we can raise enough money to get the word out.”