Maryland voters to decide abortion constitutional amendment

·3 min read

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland voters will decide next year whether to enshrine the right to abortion in the Maryland Constitution, after the House of Delegates voted Thursday to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

The House voted 98-38 for a bill that already has cleared the state Senate by the three-fifths margin needed to bring the question before voters in 2024. A simple majority would be needed by voters to approve it.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, giving control over abortion to the states. Since then, states have been working to either restrict or strengthen abortion access.

Since November, three states have affirmed abortion protections in their constitutions, including California, Vermont and Michigan. Kentucky voters rejected a ballot measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion.

Missouri voters could decide on whether to restore abortion rights, if constitutional amendments make it to the 2024 ballot. The proposals would amend the state's constitution to protect abortion rights and pregnant patients, as well as access to birth control. Now, most abortions are outlawed in the state. There are exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for cases of rape or incest.

In Ohio, supporters of a proposal to enshrine abortion rights in the Ohio Constitution are in the signature-collecting phase to get more than 413,000 voters to put the issue on the fall ballot.

The right to abortion already is protected in Maryland law. The state approved legislation in 1991 to protect abortion rights if the Supreme Court allowed abortion to be restricted. That law was petitioned to the ballot and voters approved the right in 1992 with 62% of the vote. Advocates argue that adding the protection to the state constitution would make it even harder for opponents to try to strip away abortion rights in the future.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in Maryland.

A constitutional amendment in Maryland doesn't require approval by the state's governor, though Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, has expressed support for it, as well as other bills the General Assembly is advancing to protect abortion rights this year.

Another Maryland measure is designed to protect patients and providers from criminal, civil and administrative penalties relating to abortion bans or restrictions in other states.

A separate data-privacy bill aims to protect medical and insurance records on reproductive health in electronic health information exchanges that can be shared quickly and widely across state lines.

Another measure would ensure public colleges and universities in Maryland have a plan for student access near campuses to birth control, including emergency contraception and abortion pills.

Maryland lawmakers have said the state already is seeing an increase in patients from other states. A new abortion provider is opening this year in western Maryland — just across from deeply conservative West Virginia, where state lawmakers recently passed a near-total abortion ban.

The Women’s Health Center of Maryland in Cumberland, roughly 5 miles (8 kilometers) from West Virginia, will open its doors in June to provide abortions to patients across central Appalachia, a region clinic operators say is an “abortion desert.”

Last year, Maryland lawmakers enacted a law over then-Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto to expand abortion access by ending a restriction that only physicians could provide abortions and requiring most insurance plans to cover abortion care without cost. The law enabled nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants to provide abortions with training.

Moore, in one of his first acts as governor, announced in January he was releasing $3.5 million to expand abortion training in the state. Hogan, a Republican, had declined to release the money while he was in office.

Brian Witte, The Associated Press