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Democratic candidates pledge support for abortion rights after Supreme Court leak

5/3/2022 | Bryan P. Sears

The Daily Record

A number of Democratic candidates for Maryland governor are renewing the call for an amendment to the state constitution to protect the right to an abortion.

The renewed calls come less than 24 hours after the publication of a leaked majority Supreme Court opinion that strikes down the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. That opinion could prove thorny for Republicans seeking the governor’s office who may have hoped to dismiss the issue as settled law in Maryland.

“We have to lead on this issue,” said John King, one of 10 Democratic candidates for governor, adding that it’s “an important moment for Maryland to step up for the country’s sake.”

“One of the things we can do is have a constitutional amendment that secures the right to abortion in our state constitution,” he said during an event streamed Tuesday morning on Facebook.

On Monday night, Politico reported that the nation’s highest court may be poised to strike down the landmark 1973 case. The publication described the leaked draft as “a full-throated, unflinching repudiation of the Roe decision” by a right-leaning court. Justice Samuel Alito is reported to be the author.

The leaked draft opinion supports a challenged Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks.

Leaks of draft opinions from the high court are unheard of. It highlights the emotionally charged, five-decades-long battle over abortion rights.

The action favored by King and his running mate, Michelle Siri, is one that was proposed earlier this year by House Speaker Adrienne Jones.

Current Maryland law, passed in 1992, codified the Roe decision in state law. That law was the subject of a contentious referendum battle that year.

Jones this year expressed concern about the political leanings of the Supreme Court. She proposed a constitutional amendment enshrining Maryland’s current law within the state constitution. The change, which some saw as symbolic, would have added an extra layer of protection as it would require a super majority of the legislature and voter approval to undo.

The bill passed the House largely on a party-line vote. It died in a Senate Committee after Senate President Bill Ferguson declared that his chamber would not take it up.

A similar measure was introduced in 2019 by then-House Speaker Michael Busch, who withdrew the bill after then-Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. announced his chamber would not vote on it.

Ferguson was not available for an interview, according to a spokesman.

King and Siri are not the only Democrats to announce support for a constitutional amendment if elected.

The campaigns of Comptroller Peter Franchot and Wes Moore also issued statements of support for the effort.

Former Attorney Doug Gansler issued a statement saying he would be a “brick wall” against attempts to dilute reproductive rights for women.

“Elections have consequences, and blue states need blue governors. The governor appoints judges in Maryland, the very same judges who will be interpreting laws around women’s reproductive rights,” Gansler said in a statement. “We cannot take established protections for reproductive freedom for granted.”

King criticized Kelly Schulz, a former Maryland commerce secretary and state delegate, and current Del. Dan Cox for their histories on abortion. Both Schulz and Cox are seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

King said it’s “very clear they intend to dismantle women’s reproductive rights.”

Schulz has adopted a public stance on abortion similar to that of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan by declaring personal opposition to abortion while saying she would do nothing to change existing law.

“Thirty years ago, Marylanders voted to make abortion legal in Maryland, and any decision forthcoming on Roe v. Wade will not change that,” said Mike Demkiw, a Schulz campaign spokesman. “The continued politicization of the Supreme Court is shameful and those fearmongering over Maryland abortion rights are only adding to that. While Kelly Schulz is personally pro-life, as governor, nothing will change with respect to current Maryland law on the issue.”

But Schulz, as a member of the House of Delegates, co-sponsored a so-called “personhood” amendment to the state constitution. The bill, part of a larger nationwide effort by abortion opponents, would have defined life as the beginning of biological development.

In 2012, she sponsored an amendment to legislation expanding the state Health Benefit Exchange that would barred the use of state funds for most abortion procedures.

Cox did not respond to a request for comment.

An October 2021 Goucher Poll found that 88% of those surveyed supported keeping abortion legal in Maryland. There was a divide, however, on how available the procedure should be.

About 44% said abortions should be legal in all circumstances. An equal number said the procedure should only be available under certain circumstances.

About two-thirds of Maryland counties do not have an abortion provider.

Siri, speaking on Tuesday, said the Supreme Court decision could further burden available providers.

This year, the General Assembly passed legislation meant to expand the number of health care providers who could, with training, provide abortion services. The bill also set aside $3.5 million for training.

Cox voted against the expanded access bill. He also proposed an amendment requiring abortion providers to provide medical care for fetuses born alive after an unsuccessful procedure. That amendment was rejected.

Hogan vetoed the expanded access bill, saying it would “set back standards for women’s health care and safety.” The legislature overrode his veto.

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