In early February, Gov. Wes Moore, Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D – Baltimore), and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D – Baltimore City) announced a batch of reproductive healthcare bills that aim to strengthen Marylanders’ reproductive rights.
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The bill package addresses four main areas of reproductive healthcare: protections for providers, access to abortions, privacy protections, and a constitutional amendment for reproductive freedoms.
Constitutional amendment for reproductive freedoms
The Right to Reproductive Freedom Act makes an addition to the Declaration of Rights section under Maryland’s constitution. The constitutional amendment would affirm that every person has the fundamental right to reproductive freedoms including the ability to make and effectuate decisions to prevent, continue, or end one’s own pregnancy.
On Feb. 21st, Jones introduced her bill to the House’s Health and Government Operations Committee where she described her bill as being necessary to enshrine and preserve reproductive freedoms. She said these freedoms should not be used as a bargaining chip in the future and should not be slowly chipped away. She believes this bill is a necessary step to strengthen Maryland’s freedoms so that these rights can never be up for debate.
“It’s hard to believe that Maryland would pass abortion restrictions like we’ve seen in West Virginia or Texas, but the Dobbs decision has left our state vulnerable,” Jones said. “Governors can use the power of the purse that limits access to reproductive freedom. These are not hypothetical scenarios. Last year, we passed the Abortion Care Access Act, which included $3.5 million to address Maryland’s abortion providers shortage to train more providers. Former Gov. Larry Hogan withheld that funding, which wasn’t released until this year.”
The bill requires passage by three-fifths of all the members elected to each chamber. If passed, it will then be decided by Maryland voters in the next general election in November 2024. HB 705 awaits a vote in the Health and Government Operations committee, while SB 798 awaits a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.
“As long as I am governor, our home will be a safe haven for abortion access,” Moore said in a statement. “While some states have decided to move toward restricting reproductive rights, I can assure you, we will protect them.”
Reproductive Health Protection Act
The act would prohibit a judge from requiring an individual to give testimony, sworn statements, or produce evidence in another state regarding the prosecution of legally protected healthcare in the state of Maryland. Additionally, the act would protect healthcare professionals, providers, and insurance plans from being disciplined or having any adverse action if they provide abortion services.
HB 808 awaits a hearing in the Judiciary and Health and Government Operations committees, while SB 859 awaits a hearing in the Senate Judicial Committee.
Reproductive healthcare at higher education institutions
Both bills would require higher education institutions in the state, in consultation with their students, to develop and implement a reproductive health services plan. The plan would be designed to refer students to a broad range of reproductive health services, either on-campus or off-campus. Universities and colleges would be required to provide 24-hour access to over-the-counter contraception.
HB 477 awaits a vote in the Appropriations and Health and Government Operations committees, while SB 341 awaits a hearing in the Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee.
Reproductive healthcare privacy protection
Del. Samuel Rosenberg (D – Baltimore City) and Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D – Baltimore) introduced HB 812 and SB 786, respectively. Both bills are identical and focus on protecting privacy rights relating to reproductive healthcare.
HB 812 and SB 786 would provide additional privacy protections for medical records relating to abortion services that are legal in the state of Maryland. If passed, the bills would protect patients’ reproductive healthcare data from being used in criminal prosecution or civil litigation outside of the state.
HB 812 awaits a hearing in the Health and Government Operations Committee, while SB 786 awaits a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.
“What is happening nationally could happen here in Maryland and we want to make sure we are protecting our healthcare workers and patients,” Hettleman said in a statement. “Ensuring personal information is kept in the strictest of confidence is a top priority.”