Maryland lawmakers pass bill to expand access to abortion

Mar 29, 2022, 3:06 PM | Updated: 6:07 pm

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill Tuesday that would expand access to abortion by ending a restriction that only physicians provide them and requiring most insurance plans to cover abortion care without cost.

The Senate gave the measure final passage on a 28-15 vote. That sends the measure to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, whose office did not immediately comment on his position on the bill. The governor has said he personally opposes abortion, though he has called the issue settled law in the state.

While the Senate would need 29 votes to override a veto, a Senate version of the bill passed with 30 votes Monday night, and several senators were excused Tuesday when the Senate passed the House bill.

Supporters say Maryland does not have enough abortion providers for the needs of the state. Sen. Delores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat who is sponsoring a Senate version of the bill, noted in earlier debate that many counties do not have a single provider.

“This is a big deal,” said Karen Nelson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland. “We know that just because it’s legal on the books does not always mean that there’s access, and so today the Maryland General Assembly made sure that there will be access.”

The bill would remove a legal restriction preventing nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants from providing abortions. It would create an abortion care training program and requires $3.5 million in state funding annually.

Opponents said the measure went too far.

“This bill is expanding further out,” said Sen. Justin Ready, a Carroll County Republican. “Maryland already is one of only four states that forces taxpayers to fund abortion, and we force it at pretty much every stage of the process.”

The legislation also aims to provide equitable access to abortion coverage, whether with private insurance or Medicaid. It would require private insurance plans, except for those with legal exemptions, to cover abortion care and without cost-sharing or deductibles.

The new conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that banned states from outlawing abortion.

If they do, at least 26 states are likely to either ban abortion outright or severely limit access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports abortion rights.

That would force many women to travel to other states to get abortions, prompting Democratic-led legislatures like Maryland’s to pass new laws to prepare for them.

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Maryland lawmakers pass bill to expand access to abortion