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Maryland legislature expands abortion access: ‘This is a sad day for women’s health and safety in Maryland’

Maryland March for Life participants gather in Annapolis Feb. 24, 2020. Hundreds of people rallied through the streets of the Maryland capital during the annual march, urging more state restrictions on abortion and opposing a bill that would make doctor-assisted suicide legal in the state. (CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

By Mark Zimmermann
Catholic Standard

Calling it “a sad day for women’s health and safety in Maryland,” the Maryland Catholic Conference strongly criticized the state’s legislature for overriding Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that will now become law and greatly expand abortion access in the state.

In an April 9 statement after the Maryland House of Delegates and State Senate both overrode Gov. Hogan’s veto of House Bill 937, Jenny Kraska, the executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said the MCC was “deeply disappointed” by the legislature’s actions.

“This is a sad day for women’s health and safety in Maryland,” Kraska said. “Many companies will now be compelled to pay for abortion through insurance, and it is now legal for non-physicians to perform abortions. We renew our own support for women and children and call for the state to support pregnant women and their children so together they may survive and thrive.”

The Maryland Catholic Conference is the public policy arm of the two Catholic archdioceses and one diocese in the state – the Archdiocese of Baltimore; the Archdiocese of Washington, which includes five Maryland counties surrounding the nation’s capital; and the Diocese of Wilmington, which includes counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Bishop William E. Koenig of Wilmington, Delaware address the March 30, 2022 Prayer Vigil for Life and Lawmakers at St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis. (Catholic Standard photo/Andrew Biraj)

HB 937, titled the “Abortion Care Access Act” mandates that the state provide $3.5 million in funding annually beginning in fiscal year 2024 for a newly established Abortion Care Clinical Training Program. Maryland law had previously specified that abortions could only be provided by licensed physicians, but after HB 937 becomes law on July 1, 2022, the definition of qualified abortion providers will be expanded to include nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, licensed midwives and physician assistants.

The new abortion law in Maryland also will require that “Medicaid must provide coverage of abortion care services without restrictions” in the state, and regarding insurance coverage, that “a carrier that provides labor and delivery coverage must cover abortion care services,” but it does allow religious organizations to obtain an exclusion from abortion coverage.

In an April 8 letter to House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones explaining his veto, Hogan said, “House Bill 937 endangers the health and lives of women by allowing non-physicians to perform abortions. The bill risks lowering the high standard of reproductive health care services received by women in Maryland. These procedures are complex and can, and often do, result in significant medical complications that require the attention of a licensed physician.”

The governor in his letter pointed out that licensed physicians have a level of education and training that other healthcare professionals do not have.

“Unlike nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, physician assistants and licensed certified midwives, physicians are uniquely qualified to perform these procedures and resolve any medical complications should they arise,” he said.

Concluding the letter, Hogan, who is Catholic, said, “The only impact that this bill would have on women’s reproductive rights would be to set back standards for women’s health care and safety. For these reasons, I have vetoed House Bill 937.”

In February testimony opposing HB 937, the Maryland Catholic Conference said, “Given that abortion is ubiquitous in our state, Maryland women are not looking for abortion expansion but rather help with basic necessities they need…”

In that testimony, the MCC charged that, “Offering abortion without providing alternatives is reproductive coercion. This type of bill rejects the self-determination and bodily autonomy of women, especially l0w-income women, immigrants and women of color. Maryland women want support to be able to achieve their dreams and raise their children. It is not more abortion that Maryland needs, but a clear understanding of the diverse demographic in our state and support and resources for growing families.”

On March 30 – one day after Maryland legislators approved the abortion access expansion measure and on a day when a Maryland Senate Committee heard testimony on another bill not yet acted on by the entire legislature that if enacted would let voters decide whether to enshrine abortion in the state’s constitution – the MCC held a Prayer Vigil for Life and Lawmakers at St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, one of five Catholic bishops serving Maryland who attended the vigil, noted how recent years had offered reminders of the value of human life and the need to respect it.

“From the ravages of the pandemic to the innumerable threats to human dignity caused by racial injustice, xenophobia, poverty and more – our society has been challenged to value life, to preserve life, to refuse to let life – any life – succumb to illness, to injustice, to marginalization,” he said.

Archbishop Lori said that instead of seeing the death of an unborn child as the solution to an unexpected pregnancy, “why not invest resources, instead, on the needs of the mother, the emotional, physical, material and spiritual care of her?”

He noted how the Church supports and invests in crisis pregnancy centers for that reason, and he said the state could likewise invest in pre- and post-natal care, medical care, education and other help for women facing unplanned pregnancies who might feel helpless and alone and without any other choice.

“Abortion is an issue that has divided our state and nation for decades,” Archbishop Lori said. “The passage of (this) legislation before the Maryland General Assembly will further this deep divide by disrupting the laws already in place that safeguard life and freedom of conscience and prevent even modest laws to protect life from being enacted.”

The Maryland General Assembly will conclude its 2022 session on April 11.