Maryland is a few steps closer to having some of the most expansive abortion care laws in the country after lawmakers made progress on three bills this week.
The bills are part of a package promised at the outset of the legislative session and backed by Democratic Gov. Wes Moore.
On Friday morning, the abortion constitutional amendment referendum introduced by Democratic Speaker Adrienne A. Jones passed the House on a 99-37 vote. The bill would give voters in 2024 the option to enshrine the right to an abortion in the state constitution.
A nearly identical version was passed by the House during the 2022 legislative session, but was not taken up by the Senate. This year, though, it is all but guaranteed to land on Moore’s desk and receive his signature.
Democratic Senate President Bill Ferguson’s identical version of the bill advanced in that chamber Friday after six amendments proposed by Republicans were rejected. A seventh amendment was withdrawn by its sponsor, Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire of Anne Arundel County.
A bill that would require public colleges and universities ensure students have access to reproductive health services advanced from committee to the Senate floor this week.
On Thursday, during its initial floor hearing, Minority Whip Sen. Justin Ready, who represents parts of Frederick and Carroll counties, proposed an amendment that would have required the applicable universities to also come up with a policy under Title IX for supporting pregnant and parenting students. Sen. Brian Feldman, a Democrat from Montgomery County, pushed back, saying the issue Ready addressed in the proposed amendment is larger, involves federal law, and should be given adequate attention and consideration.
“Just throwing it into a floor amendment seems not the way to approach this,” Feldman said.
The amendment — and five others proposed by Republican lawmakers — were rejected.
A version of this bill is also being considered in the House of Delegates, but has not moved in nearly a month.
And on Wednesday, a House bill that would create a law that protects abortion providers and patients from out-of-state legal, criminal or administrative action was heard for over an hour in the Judiciary Committee.
Del. Nicole Williams, a Prince George’s County Democrat, argued in her opening comments that legislative attempts to restrict abortion in other states is having a chilling effect on patients and providers in Maryland.
“These types of legislative attempts by other states not only attempt to control the vital autonomy of the citizens in the state, it makes it risky for Marylanders to treat or support out-of-state patients,” Williams said.
Democratic Attorney General Anthony Brown testified in support of the bill, saying “it’s vitally important to those who provide or support access to reproductive health care in Maryland that we provide in return the highest possible guardrails to their safety and privacy.”
Dr. Robert Spear of Garrett County offered supportive testimony from a provider who opted to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
“In September of last year, the West Virginia Legislature passed a total abortion ban with exceptions for survivors. And since then hundreds of West Virginians have had to flee to the state to access abortion care and have come to Maryland,” Spear said. “West Virginia is depending on Maryland as a safe haven.”
Laura Bogley, the executive director of Maryland Right to Life, offered the only opposing testimony. She argued the bill would protect human traffickers.
Abortion is protected in Maryland state law, but that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from working to expand access and funding and make the state a model for abortion care policy.
Last session, the General Assembly passed the Abortion Care Access Act, which allowed nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other clinicians to provide abortion care in the state. The bill also requires insurance policies (including Maryland Medicaid) that cover the costs associated with labor and delivery to cover the costs of abortion care.