As abortion rights voters mourned the U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday striking down Roe v. Wade, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones renewed her vow to protect access to abortion care statewide.
“Here in Maryland, access to the full range of reproductive health services will not be limited by this decision,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “I will continue to put the full weight of my office behind a Maryland constitutional amendment to protect women’s health care and reproductive liberty.”
Jones said she would push for the constitutional amendment again after her efforts to do so failed this year, when her Senate counterpart said such a change wasn’t necessary.
On Friday, she was among many top-level Democratic political officials and candidates in Maryland who reacted to the news of the court’s decision by calling for legislative changes or increased funding for existing or new abortion services in a state that already has taken progressive measures to support abortion rights.
At least seven Democratic candidates for governor specifically vowed Friday that, if elected, they would work to pass the constitutional amendment in the state.
The two leading Republican gubernatorial candidates, former state cabinet official Kelly Schulz and Del. Dan Cox, had distinctly different reactions.
“It’s a day to rejoice,” Cox said in a video posted to social media, going on to say this was one of the reasons he’s in politics.
Cox, a freshman lawmaker from Frederick County who’s endorsed by former President Donald Trump, sponsored several unsuccessful bills this year to restrict abortion access in the state. In Friday’s video, he said as governor he would end Maryland taxpayer funding of abortion efforts.
Schulz, who is endorsed by outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, reiterated her stance that she would “do nothing to change current Maryland law” on the issue.
“As I have repeatedly said, while I am personally pro-life, the issue is settled law in Maryland and has been for 30 years since Marylanders voted on it,” said Schulz, who sponsored abortion-restricting bills while in the House of Delegates a decade ago.
The state’s lone Republican member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, said in a statement he was “thankful” that the court “got it right.”
Among the Democratic governor hopefuls, former Obama White House official Ashwani Jain promoted how he had made enshrining abortion access in the state constitution a priority months before the high court heard oral arguments in the case that undid Roe.
The others who said they would support such a measure were state Comptroller Peter Franchot, former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, author and former nonprofit leader Wes Moore, former U.S. Education Secretary John King, and former Clinton administration official and nonprofit leader Jon Baron. Former state Attorney General Doug Gansler, another of the nine Democrats running in the July 19 gubernatorial primary, joined them in voicing outrage over the court’s decision.
Moore tweeted: “This #SCOTUS decision to overturn #Roe is the realization of a nightmare for so many Americans. In this moment, governors have never been more important. We will do everything in our power to make Maryland a safe haven for abortion access.”
Perez, Moore and King also called on their supporters to donate to the Baltimore Abortion Fund, a nonprofit that helps women with abortion services. Perez’s and Franchot’s campaigns also sent out a fundraising email with a donation link for their own war chests.
“We need a champion like Tom Perez in Maryland who will fight for women’s health and defend the fundamental right to an abortion,” Cecile Richards, a former Planned Parenthood president, wrote in the donation request sent out by Perez’s campaign.
Franchot, in a fundraising email signed by himself, asked supporters to “chip in” because, “We cannot risk getting outspent by any Republican opponent that would fight to take away the right to choose in Maryland.”
And before Schulz’s statement Friday afternoon, Perez targeted the Republican front-runner for tweeting instead about the gas tax.
“Your silence on the Supreme Court’s decision to endanger millions of American women who have lost a fundamental right today is truly deafening … Maryland will remember,” Perez wrote.
In 1991, the state enacted a law allowing abortion services to be performed until a fetus reaches viability. After that, abortion procedures can be performed only to protect the health of the pregnant person or in the case of a fetal anomaly.
A 1992 ballot referendum codified the policy, guaranteeing Marylanders would maintain access to abortion care regardless of the Supreme Court.
In 2019, the late House Speaker Michael E. Busch sponsored legislation that would have allowed voters to enshrine Roe abortion protections in Maryland’s constitution. After Busch ultimately withdrew the bill, Jones introduced another ballot referendum in 2022.
Jones’ legislation passed the House along party lines but died in the Senate. Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, supported The Abortion Care Access Act sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chair Delores G. Kelley and Del. Ariana B. Kelly.
Under that bill, which eventually passed into law despite a veto from Hogan, more medical providers will be able to offer abortion services. It also directed the state to provide $3.5 million to train clinicians.
Though the law will go into effect July 1, the spending wouldn’t be mandated until the following fiscal year. Hogan refused to release it early because he opposes non-doctors performing abortions.
In a statement released Friday morning, Ferguson challenged Hogan to release the $3.5 million.
“On July 1st, Governor Hogan has a choice of whether to release those funds for use this year,” Ferguson said. “Given today’s Supreme Court decision, I am absolutely certain he should.”
Asked toward the end of the 2022 legislative session why he let Jones’ ballot referendum bill languish, Ferguson told reporters that the right to abortion services “is not something that is contested here in the state of Maryland.”
According to Kelly, the question likely would appear on the ballot during the 2024 presidential election if Jones’ reintroduced bill passes.
Michelle Siri, the executive director of the Women’s Law Center and a former board president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said that, while abortion remains legal in Maryland, Friday’s decision may have greater implications for other civil rights policy.
“You know, we feared for a long time that they’re going to be coming for birth control, for LGBTQ+ rights, for [in vitro fertilization], and Justice [Clarence] Thomas’s concurrence confirmed that,” said Siri, the lieutenant governor candidate alongside King’s campaign for governor, which has been endorsed by Pro-Choice Maryland.
Thomas wrote a concurring opinion released Friday in which he advocated for the court to reconsider other due process rulings that now protect access to contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.
The Maryland General Assembly legalized same-sex marriage in 2012. The right to reproductive care — including birth control, fertility and abortion services — was encompassed in Jones’ 2022 bill proposing a constitutional referendum.
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If it had passed, Maryland’s Declaration of Rights would have been amended to read: “That every person, as a central component of the individual’s rights to liberty and equality, has the fundamental right to reproductive liberty which includes the right to make and effect decisions regarding the individual’s own reproduction, including but not limited to the ability to prevent, continue or end their pregnancy.”
Asked if Maryland could withstand the potential for other civil rights to be stricken, Siri said: “It’s going to depend.”
“We have a governor who originally claimed that they weren’t going to take any position on abortion rights and then vetoed the Abortion Care Access Act and has withheld the funding for training new providers,” she said of Hogan. “So it really is going to depend on who’s in office.”
Siri added that it’s critical that the state enshrine access to reproductive rights in its constitution “and even then we still always have to be vigilant.”
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat who unsuccessfully sponsored a bill to give legal protections to clinicians and patients in 2022, said he has “always been in favor” of enshrining the right to abortion care in the state constitution.
Smith pointed to other recent ballot referendums, like one that made gambling a constitutional right and another that will likely legalize cannabis, “neither of which are of equal importance to the freedom and autonomy and protection of Marylanders’ access to health care and abortion.”
“This will be a significant issue in the gubernatorial race,” Smith said. “That should be under a microscope.”