The House of Delegates is expected to take up two controversial abortion bills Wednesday. One, a state Constitutional amendment, would preserve a person’s right to an abortion in Maryland. The other would expand the number of providers that could perform abortions in the state.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones, the lead sponsor on the Constitutional amendment, says she was moved to action by Mississippi’s “Gestational Age Act,” a highly restrictive anti-abortion bill now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
She pointed to that measure in a recent committee hearing on her bill, warning Marylanders not to get complacent.
“To those who would say that can't happen here,” she said. “I will point to the last six years of politics in this country and ask you if we have any norms that haven't been broken or tested.”
Jones said adding abortion access to the state constitution would make it more difficult to inhibit a woman’s ability to access reproductive services.
And while it is unlikely that Maryland will face the same restrictions to abortion access as those in Mississippi’s law, there are covert ways of denying abortion care, she said.
“It's not difficult to imagine a governor withholding critical state funding for another program in an attempt to win concessions limiting state funding for the full range of reproductive care,” Jones said.
Del. Arianna Kelly, a Montgomery County Democrat, is the lead sponsor of the Abortion Care Access Act, which would establish an Abortion Care Clinical Training Program in Maryland.
Kelly pointed out that many consider abortion access to be settled law in Maryland. But, she said, “We have not kept up to date with changes in how we deliver abortion care, especially in ensuring everyone who needs it has access to care, including rural communities and low-income communities.”
She told a House committee the state could address provider shortages by allowing qualified medical professionals like nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to perform abortions instead of just doctors.
“Since 1992, the number of abortion providers in Maryland has decreased by 15%. This while the state's population has increased 28%. Two out of three Maryland counties have no abortion provider,” Kelly said.
Further, Kelly explained, if no actions is taken to shore up abortion rights in Maryland, access could be eroded as is happening in other states.
But some, like Dr. Sandy Christiansen, an OBGYN, said allowing more practitioners to perform abortions is not the correct way to solve the problem of limited access.
“I believe all women deserve quality health care,” she said. “Induced abortion whether by pills or surgery, I believe is completely outside the scope of mid-level professionals who simply lack the depth of knowledge and extensive training needed to be properly equipped to handle complications.”
Christiansen argued there is no substitute for the training a doctor receives.
Lynn McCann, with the Baltimore Abortion Fund, told WYPR the organization is already preparing for how to handle a world where it is difficult to find access to abortion.
She says the organization has been in talks with other abortion funds on the East Coast to prepare for a new onslaught of patients seeking abortion care.
“We have been part of this collaborative pilot project to increase the funding for all of the abortion funds in this region to help them prepare for receiving more clients, or people from traveling out of state, and then also increase information sharing and collaboration,” McCann said.
Baltimore Abortion Fund, she said, has already begun hearing from more clients as restrictive abortion legislation takes effect in other states around the country.