Maryland House votes to add abortion rights to state constitution

The Maryland House voted Friday to enshrine the right to abortion in the state’s constitution and for a separate measure to broaden access to providers, as supporters cited the possibility that a conservative U.S. Supreme Court could overturn or weaken abortion-rights protections.

The House voted 93-42 for the constitutional amendment. If approved by the Senate, voters would have the final say in November.

The constitutional amendment, sponsored by Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones, comes at a time when states mostly across the South and Midwest are moving to limit access to abortion. Other states are acting to protect abortion rights. Vermont lawmakers already have approved a constitutional amendment to guarantee access to legal abortion, and it will come before voters in November.

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The Supreme Court has signaled in a case out of Mississippi that it would roll back abortion rights, and possibly overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, in a ruling expected later this year.

Maryland passed legislation in 1991 to protect a woman’s right to abortion in state law if the Supreme Court should ever restrict abortions. It was petitioned to the ballot, and voters approved the right to abortion in 1992 with 62% of the vote. Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in the state, and the General Assembly is heavily Democratic.

The constitutional amendment would make it harder to overturn the law, because it would require a three-fifths vote in both chambers of the General Assembly, instead of a majority vote. After that, it also would give voters the final say on any future changes to the law once it’s in the constitution.

"I’m inclined to think that in the current political atmosphere where partisans on both sides are so extremely divided and there is so much passion that the greater good should ultimately be decided by the voters themselves," said Del. Anne Healey, a Prince George’s County Democrat who was a House member in 1991.

Del. Neil Parrott, a Washington County Republican, said the constitutional amendment was "completely unnecessary," because even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, it would not affect Maryland law.

"There’s no reason for this bill, unless it’s purely political, to turn out people in elections this coming November, and I don’t think that’s a great reason to vote for a constitutional amendment," Parrott said.

The House also voted 89-47 for a separate bill to increase the number of qualified abortion providers in the state. The measure would remove a legal restriction that prevents nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants from providing abortions. It also creates an abortion care training program and requires $3.5 million in state funding for it each year.

Del. Ariana Kelly, who is the lead sponsor of the measure, said the bill will help ensure women get the care they need in their community from providers they know and trust.

Supporters say the bill would provide equitable access to abortion coverage, whether with private insurance or Medicaid. It also would require private insurance plans, except for those with legal exemptions, to cover abortion care and without cost sharing or deductibles.


"It helps women by making sure that care is affordable either through insurance or though Medicaid, because low-income women and middle-income women should have the same right to make their own choices about their reproductive lives as rich women do," said Kelly, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Baltimore County Republican, described the bill as "radical, and drastic and completely unneeded."

"Today in Maryland and tomorrow, if the Supreme Court returns abortion laws to the states’ authority, Maryland already has some of the most liberal abortion laws in place," Szeliga said.