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Maryland Democrats try again to protect abortion rights with constitutional amendment

Pamela Wood/The Baltimore Banner
Del. Ariana Kelly talks about proposals to protect access to abortion during a press conference at the State House in Annapolis on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. She's joined by other leaders including House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, left, Gov. Wes Moore, left center, and Senate President Bill Ferguson, right.

Dozens of members of the Maryland legislature are sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would enshrine the right to an abortion into the state constitution.

The amendment, if passed by the legislature, signed by Gov. Wes Moore and approved by a majority of Maryland voters — would prohibit the state from directly or indirectly denying, burdening or abridging the right to things like birth control and abortion services.

“In the wake of the overturning of Roe v Wade, it is the only way to ensure that the rights of future generations of Marylanders are protected,” Moore said during a press conference Thursday in Annapolis.

If the amendment is approved by lawmakers and the state’s top leader, it could wind up on the ballot of Maryland voters by referendum during the 2024 general election.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 50 year precedent of Roe v. Wade last year, which gave more power to the states to individually regulate abortion triggering bans in several states.

The 6-to-3 ruling was led by the conservative majority and three liberal Supreme Court justices dissented. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case was brought to the court by Mississippi’s only abortion provider after a majority Republican state legislature passed an abortion ban after 15 weeks.

In 1991, Maryland lawmakers passed and then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat, signed a bill allowing abortions up to the point when a fetus can survive outside the womb.

Opponents petitioned the bill to appear as a referendum on the ballot, but voters approved abortion rights by a 2-1 margin in 1992.

Maryland’s fetal homicide law, which took effect in 2005, is still on the books, which means an aborted fetus can be considered a murder victim but only for ‘viable’ fetuses.

This past legislative session the Maryland House of Delegates voted 93-42 to pass a bill which would amend the state constitution to include the right to an abortion. But the bill died in the Senate, which did not vote on it.

Lawmakers are more optimistic this year, with a solid Democratic majority in both houses, plenty of time on the legislative clock which runs out in April, and a governor committed to the legislation.

Del. Ariana Kelly, a Democrat, who represents District 16, said lawmakers are working on a series of bills to safeguard providers from prosecution across state lines.

The Montgomery County Democrat serves as the vice chair of the Health and Government Operations Subcommittee.

“We're talking about protection against criminal prosecution, prohibiting law enforcement from cooperating with extradition requests, prohibiting state agencies from providing information, protections from civil litigation, protecting health practitioners from disciplinary actions based on out-of-state licensing boards,” Kelly said.

To date, only three states have amended their state constitutions to protect reproductive rights: California, Colorado and Vermont. Michigan has some protections in its constitution.

Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia have amendments that restrict the right to abortion.

Sixteen states, plus Washington D.C., also passed laws protecting abortion rights.

Editor's Note: Kristen Mosbrucker and Rachel Baye contributed to this news story.

Scott is the Health Reporter for WYPR. @smaucionewypr
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