Maryland House OKs abortion rights constitutional amendment
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- The Maryland House voted Friday to enshrine the right to abortion in the state Constitution, one of several steps lawmakers are taking this legislative session to protect abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
The House voted 99-37 for the constitutional amendment, which also is advancing in the state Senate. If the measure passes the General Assembly, voters would have a chance to approve it in November 2024.
"There's nothing more important than ensuring that Marylanders' personal rights and freedoms are protected and extended equally," House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Democrat who is sponsoring the constitutional protection, said in a statement. "The House and Senate will continue to work together to ensure that we pass the full package of reproductive rights bills so anyone seeking or providing abortion care in Maryland is protected."
The measure passed with no debate Friday, after Republican-sponsored amendments were rejected during debate earlier in the week.
"You can have different ideas about abortion or when abortion rights should or should not be triggered, but I think a lot of us just feel like a constitutional amendment is not necessary," Del. Jason Buckel, an Allegany County Republican who is the House minority leader, said in an interview after the vote. "We've made that argument multiple times. It's obviously fallen on deaf ears, and that's the way it is."
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, giving control over abortion to the states. Since then, states have been working to either restrict or strengthen abortion access.
Last month, Democratic Gov. Wes Moore and Maryland Democrats from both houses gathered to show unified support for the constitutional amendment, as well as other measures protecting abortion rights, which also are moving forward in the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Democratic Senate President Bill Ferguson said the country is in "a once in 50-year moment where a settled constitutional law was usurped by six justices."
"This is a surreal moment in time, and so it's important that Maryland stand firm and show that we are a state where we believe that reproductive health, freedom and liberty matter and are protected and so we need to take the steps that are necessary to do that, and so we will," Ferguson told journalists shortly before the House vote Friday morning.
The right to abortion already is protected in Maryland law. The state approved legislation in 1991 to protect abortion rights if the Supreme Court allowed abortion to be restricted. The Maryland law was petitioned to the ballot and voters approved the right in 1992 with 62% of the vote. Advocates argue that adding the protection to the state constitution would make it even harder for opponents to try to strip away abortion rights in the future.
Lawmakers also are advancing legislation designed to protect patients and providers in Maryland from criminal, civil and administrative penalties relating to abortion bans or restrictions in other states.
A separate data-privacy bill aims to protect medical and insurance records on reproductive health in electronic health information exchanges that can be shared quickly and widely across state lines.
Another measure would ensure public colleges and universities in Maryland have a plan for student access near campuses to birth control, including emergency contraception and abortion pills.
Last year, Maryland lawmakers enacted a law over then-Gov. Larry Hogan's veto to expand abortion access by ending a restriction that only physicians could provide abortions and requiring most insurance plans to cover abortion care without cost. The law enabled nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants to provide abortions with training.