Maryland advocates look to legislative session to strengthen abortion protections

Abortion rights supporters rallied on Lawyers' Mall
Abortion rights supporters rallied on Lawyers’ Mall in Annapolis Saturday. (Photo Maryland Matters / Josh Kurtz)

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Abortion rights supporters rallied in all 50 states Saturday, including in Annapolis, sounding the alarm over recent laws restricting women’s access to abortions and reproductive health care.

More than 250 people gathered under bright sunshine at Lawyers’ Mall in Annapolis to show their support for keeping abortion safe and legal and offer their full-throated declaration that women should control their own bodies.

“Bans off our bodies” was a popular sign at Saturday’s rally. Several advocates made the case for strengthening abortion protections in Maryland, and a dozen elected officials spoke and declared their solidarity.

But restrictive new laws in states like Texas and Mississippi were uppermost on the demonstrators’ minds, along with the very real possibility that the Supreme Court could overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Several speakers Saturday warned that Marylanders cannot take the state’s well-established abortion protections for granted.

“Texas wrote a blueprint,” said Del. Dana C. Jones (D-Anne Arundel).

Karen J. Nelson, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Maryland told the crowd that in legislatures across the country, 600 abortion restrictions have been introduced in the past year, and 90 have been enacted.

“2021 is the most hostile year for abortion services since Roe was decided in 1973,” she said. “Even in states like Maryland, we worry about access … Legal rights do not always equal access.”

Several state policymakers recounted recent efforts to solidify abortion protections and reproductive health in Maryland, from a law that would restore any federal funding cut from Planned Parenthood with state dollars to efforts to withdraw state pension funds from Alabama companies after that state restricted abortion access to laws boosting postpartum and prenatal care.

Lawmakers said they were preparing new legislation to ensure that reproductive services remain accessible and affordable in the state.

In Maryland, abortion rights are enshrined in state law, thanks to a ballot initiative that passed overwhelmingly in 1992. Eight months before he died in 2019, then-House speaker Michael E. Busch (D) floated the idea of putting a question on the 2020 statewide ballot that would further protect abortion rights by placing them in the state constitution, but the proposal was temporarily shelved.

Now some lawmakers want to revive the idea, and state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) told the crowd at Lawyers’ Mall that he’d support it if he’s elected governor in 2022.

Del. Ariana B. Kelly
Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery) plans to introduce legislation next year to make abortion more accessible and affordable in Maryland. (Photo Maryland Matters / Josh Kurtz)

In an interview, Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), a former head of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, said she plans to introduce a legislative package that will address abortion access and affordability in the state. The legislation would aim to ensure that the procedure remains affordable and it would seek to increase the number of trained abortion providers in the state. The legislation would also be designed to erase the stigma of abortion in society.

“We’re still working out the details,” Kelly said, but added that after the recent Texas abortion restrictions were allowed to become law by the Supreme Court, Maryland lawmakers have begun to mobilize.

“I’ve been talking to my colleagues over the interim and they are really on fire,” she said. “They all recognize that we have to do more. It’s been since the 1990s when we last made significant abortion protects.”

But there will be other legislation as well. Del. Nicole A. Williams (D-Prince George’s) said she has been working on a bill for the past two years that would make it illegal to prosecute women who seek abortions or the people who help them obtain it. That attempts to address a provision in the new Texas law that offers a $10,000 reward to anyone who reports an illegal abortion or identifies the people who helped a woman get the procedure.

“We are going to bring that ban here to the State House because we are going to hold the line on abortion rights here in Maryland,” she said.

Other lawmakers plan to reintroduce legislation that would raise the legal age for marriage in Maryland — which currently stands at 15.

“It’s unfortunate that in 2021, we have to be here,” Williams said.

Those same themes were echoed throughout the country Saturday, where 650 separate abortion rights rallies took place.

“It is our job to turn pain into purpose, to turn pain into promise, and to turn pain into power,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, told the demonstration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. “Our humanity and our dignity is not up for debate.”

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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