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Abortion at the center of House debate

Abortion-rights supporters (foreground) try to disrupt an anti-abortion march to the Texas Capitol during a Texas Rally for Life on Jan. 24 in Austin, Texas.
Sarah Y. Kim
Hands Off My Uterus sign

Two abortion bills were at the center of an hourlong debate in the House of Delegates Wednesday.

One bill, The Right to Reproductive Liberty, a state Constitutional amendment that would preserve a woman’s right to an abortion in Maryland, only faced one amendment.

Del. William Wivell, a Washington County Republican, proposed adding the word “preborn” to the bill.

Wivell argued the bill as written “allows for the destruction of the life of the preborn child and forever takes away the preborn child’s own right to reproduction.”

Del. Ariana Kelly, the floor leader for both bills, refuted this, saying “the voters had a say in this and the right to abortion care has been settled law since 1991.”

The amendment failed.

The second bill, the Abortion Care Access Act, would, among other things, fund training for more medical providers to perform abortions in the state, faced nine proposed amendments from Republican lawmakers, all of which failed.

Carroll County Del. April Rose, argued the $3.5 million designated for the abortion provider training should instead go toward creating a new program in collaboration with a neonatology fellowship program at the University of Maryland Medical System.

The “Premature Marylanders Hope Fellowship” that Rose proposed would have compensated graduates who commit to spending at least 5 years practicing in under-served areas of the state.

“Every woman in the state of Maryland should have access to good medical care, to help them have support so that they can hopefully bring their babies into this world so that they can be cared for properly,” Rose said.

But Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat said that program doesn’t need the funds.

“The program is a good program, an important program. And it is fully funded, specifically because it can receive federal funds,” she argued. “So the bill before you today, and specifically this particular amendment to the bill, I think is not appropriate,” McIntosh said.

In a deeply emotional speech, Del. Brenda Thiam, a Washington County Republican, proposed an amendment that would require the Health Department to collect data on a variety of details connected with abortion in the state. She emphasized the importance of exploring the demographic data of those seeking abortions in Maryland.

“According to the 2011 abortion surveillance report issued by the CDC, Black women make up about 14% of childbearing population. Yet we obtained 36.2% of reported abortions. Black women have the highest abortion rate in the country with 474 abortions per 1000 live births,” she said.

Thiam said she wants to see how these statistics play out in Maryland, where roughly 60% of the population is white, and roughly 30% is Black.

Del. Nicole Williams, a Prince George’s County Democrat, urged colleagues to resist the amendment, saying it would not benefit the African American community, adding “African American women have the highest rate as relates to maternal mortality.”

Williams argued “Partially, the reason maybe is because of lack of access to care. And that's what this bill is about; this bill is about access to care.”

Both bills received preliminary approval and are headed for a final vote before moving on to the Senate.

Callan Tansill-Suddath is a State House Reporter for WYPR, where she covers the General Assembly.