Gov. Wes Moore and several dozen lawmakers gathered in the State House rotunda Thursday to announce a package of bills focused on strengthening abortion access, and protecting those who receive abortions around the state.
The four bills that make up the package utilize different tactics to protect abortion care in Maryland for generations to come.
“As long as I am the governor of Maryland, our state will be a safe haven for abortion rights,” Moore, who made abortion access a central component of his campaign, said during his opening remarks. “But … we’re going to make sure Maryland is a safe haven long after I am governor of this state.
“When these bills make it to my desk I will sign them,” the Democrat vowed.
One measure, sponsored by Prince George’s County Del. Nicole Williams, Howard County Del. Terri L. Hill, and Montgomery County Sen. Will Smith, all Democrats, would create a shield law to protect abortion providers and patients from out-of-state legal, criminal or administrative action.
Should it pass, if a person who lives in a state where abortion is criminalized travels to Maryland to receive an abortion, that person would not have to worry about legal retribution.
Another measure — sponsored by Sen. Brian Feldman and Del. Ariana Kelly, both of Montgomery County, and Baltimore Del. Stephanie Smith, all Democrats — would require public colleges and universities to ensure students have access to reproductive health services, including abortion and emergency contraception, at or near the institution. Under the bill, 24-hour access to contraception would be required on campuses.
A third bill focuses on health records and digital privacy. Sponsored by Sen. Shelly Hettleman of Baltimore County and Del. Samuel Rosenberg of Baltimore, both Democrats, the measure puts more protections for digital medical records in place.
“In states that are incentivizing private citizens to turn on individuals who are providing any sort of assistance to those who are choosing to have an abortion we could be putting our health care providers and our patients seeking care in Maryland at risk,” Hettleman said.
The final bill, the Right to Reproductive Freedom, is a referendum. Should it pass, voters would have a choice in 2024 if they want to enshrine the right to an abortion in the Maryland constitution. It was introduced in both chambers on Monday, and is being sponsored by Ferguson and Jones.
Jones previously introduced a version of the bill during the 2022 legislative session; it was not taken up by the Senate.
“Let us go directly to the voters and through their approval enshrine the right to choose in our constitution, just as they did 30 years ago. I’m confident Marylanders will vote to protect reproductive rights permanently,” Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, a Democrat, urged.
Abortion is currently protected practice in the state. In 1991, the General Assembly of Maryland effectively codified Roe v. Wade in Maryland. Abortion opponents subsequently petitioned successfully to bring the law to a referendum; 61% of voters then approved the move.
Last year, the General Assembly passed the Abortion Care Access Act, which, among other things, created a training program for nurse practitioners, physicians assistants and other advanced-practice clinicians to be trained to administer abortion care. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bill, but it was overridden by a two-thirds majority in the legislature. He then withheld $3.5 million in funding that had been included in the budget to begin the training program. Moore released the funds the day after he was sworn in as governor.
Kelly, who sponsored the Abortion Care Access Act of 2022, said during the press conference that the state now needs to go further.
“After the Dobbs decision, what we need to do is everything that we can to permanently protect reproductive freedom here in the state of Maryland. And we’re doing that with this package,” she said.
“We believe that most Marylanders would prefer a middle course on this issue,” the House Republican Caucus said in a statement, “and permitting late-term elective abortions — as this amendment appears to allow — is outside the mainstream views of our citizens.”
The Senate Republican Caucus also released a statement characterizing the package of bills as “just another sign that the Maryland General Assembly is becoming the playground of symbolic gestures.” The caucus specifically called the proposed amendment “unnecessary” and said it “only serves to placate those pushing the national progressive agenda.”