Everybody saw it coming.
And yet, the Supreme Court decision Friday to strike down Roe v. Wade, the historic 1973 decision guaranteeing abortion rights across the country, may be reordering Maryland politics just 3 1/2 weeks before the state’s primaries.
“It’s going to be a different world,” Del. Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery), a leading abortion rights advocate in the General Assembly, said in an interview Friday. “Yesterday and tomorrow, totally different worlds.”
Maryland has fairly robust abortion protections, enshrined in state law 30 years ago by a statewide referendum. Abortion rights supporters took to the streets Friday evening in Wheaton, Annapolis and elsewhere, expressing their disgust and horror with the Supreme Court ruling.
But even with Maryland’s status as one of a dozen states that preserve abortion access up to the point of viability (usually 22 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy), abortion rights supporters moved with a new sense of urgency Friday, vowing to elect more pro-choice candidates and to press for even stronger protections in state law, including a state constitutional amendment to preserve abortion rights.
Separately, local leaders began setting policy and funding decisions in response to the court ruling.
Dozens of Democratic officeholders and political candidates issued statements decrying the Supreme Court ruling and vowed to preserve and protect abortion rights in Maryland, cognizant of the likelihood that the number of abortion seekers coming to Maryland will increase dramatically, with close to half of U.S. states set to outlaw the procedure in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.
The Republican reaction in Maryland ranged from overjoyed to circumspect.
With mail-in ballots already arriving at voters’ homes, early voting set to take place between July 7-14, and the primary on July 19, abortion could be uppermost on voters’ minds in the days ahead. Democratic primary voters have a full menu of abortion rights supporters to choose from in the races for statewide office — governor, attorney general and state comptroller. So the choice there may be who is best-equipped to expand abortion protections in the state.
“An overwhelming majority of Democrats support women’s reproductive rights… and there is little daylight if any between any of the Democratic candidates who are currently running for governor on these issues,” said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College and director of the Goucher Poll.
That point was brought home Friday evening, when Democratic gubernatorial contender John King, who has been endorsed by the group Pro-Choice Maryland, and his running mate, Michelle Siri, shared the stage at the Wheaton rally with former Del. Aruna Miller, running mate to another candidate for governor, Wes Moore. Similarly, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich was just a few feet away from one of his Democratic primary challengers, County Councilmember Hans Riemer, and both spoke.
The leading Republican candidates for governor had notably different reactions to the Supreme Court ruling.
Former Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, the favorite of the GOP establishment, issued a statement promising to preserve the status quo if she is elected.
“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court changes nothing with regard to abortion in Maryland,” she said. “As I have repeatedly said, while I am personally pro-life, the issue is settled law in Maryland and has been for 30 years, since Marylanders voted on it. Despite fear-mongering from others, as governor, I’ll do nothing to change current Maryland law.”
Schulz has largely hewed to the position of her political patron, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who she is trying to succeed. When Hogan was first campaigning for governor in 2014, he said he was personally opposed to abortion but would not seek to change state law.
But is that line still cogent in the current political environment?
“I think that she’s going to be pushed on the issue more than Hogan was pushed on it during his eight years or during his two elections, just because of the decision today,” Kromer said of Schulz.
Hogan may not have helped Schulz’s cause when he vetoed a bill this year to expand the types of medical practitioners who can perform abortions — which the legislature overrode — and then withheld funding to provide training for those medical professionals. It served as a reminder that even with abortion protections in place, a governor can have an impact on how the laws are administered.
“I think Kelly Schulz’s statement was particularly interesting,” said Alexandra Hughes, former chief of staff to House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) and the late Speaker Michael Busch (D). “Fundamentally, [she] is a political pragmatist. Her problem is, there are a lot of suburban and urban women who are not buying this Susan Collins ‘walk the line’ thing.”
Schulz’s principal GOP primary opponent, Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick), posted a minute-long video on Facebook praising the Supreme Court decision.
“Thank God, thank President Trump, thank the Supreme Court for doing what is right,” said Cox, who has been endorsed by Trump in the primary. “My wife and I for years and years have been fighting for the unborn. That’s one of the reasons why we’re in politics.”
Cox also took a swipe at Schulz, saying “my opponent wants to enforce taxpayer-funded abortions. She will do nothing to stop illegal actions against these precious babies.”
The upcoming primaries may expose certain Democrats who have opposed abortion rights.
Lily Bolourian, executive director of Pro-Choice Maryland, said the organization has in recent days retooled its endorsement policy to only focus on the strongest advocates on abortion rights. And, she said, the group is determined to defeat as many anti-abortion Democrats as possible.
“There is no room in the Democratic Party or in any progressive movements for anti-abortion elected officials. Period,” she told Maryland Matters. “It’s unacceptable, and we intend to continue building power to target any politician who voted against the Abortion [Care] Access Act.”
That’s a reference to Kelly’s legislation expanding the array of medical providers who can perform abortions. When the bill initially passed the House, 89-47, six Democrats voted against it: Dels. Dalya Attar of Baltimore City, Anne Healey of Prince George’s County, Shaneka Henson of Anne Arundel County, Cheryl Landis of Prince George’s, Mary Ann Lisanti of Harford County, and Geraldine Valentino-Smith of Prince George’s.
After Hogan vetoed the bill, the House voted 90-46 to override the veto. Attar, Henson, Landis, Lisanti and Valentino-Smith voted against the override. Healey did not vote. It takes 85 votes to override a gubernatorial veto in the 141-member House of Delegates.
“Democrats who voted against the abortion access bill are going to get pressed about it on the [campaign] trail,” Hughes predicted.
Landis and Valentino-Smith are not seeking election this year. Lisanti is running for state Senate in a competitive primary with former Del. Mary-Dulany James. Henson is one of two Democratic incumbents running in a two-member district, without opposition, so she will be safe in the primary.
It’s unclear whether Attar faces a competitive primary, in a district where Dels. Samuel Rosenberg (D) and Tony Bridges (D) are also seeking reelection. Former Del. Bilal Ali and Chris Ervin, a trucking company owner and civic activist, are also competing in the Democratic primary.
But Pro-Choice Maryland is clearly targeting Healey, who was first elected in 1990. The group has endorsed Ashanti Martinez, a research and policy analyst with CASA, the immigrants’ rights group, and he launched a digital ad earlier this week slamming Healey.
“It’s tough to understand why, in one of our state’s most progressive House districts, Anne Healey, a purported Democrat, is aligning herself with the positions of the far right,” a narrator says in the ad.
Healey could not be reached for comment Friday. But the Women Legislators of Maryland caucus released a series of statements from the caucus leaders, including one from Healey, the immediate past president.
While eight statements were full-throated denunciations of the Supreme Court decision, Healey’s was somewhat more measured.
“Regardless of what the Supreme Court said today, abortion in Maryland remains a private, medical decision,” she said. “The law we have in place makes sure that only the pregnant woman herself has the final say. I voted earlier this year to secure this policy as part of the Maryland Constitution. I would do so again.”
Her statement was in reference to a bill sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) this year that would have set up a November referendum to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. The bill passed through the House but stalled in the Senate, to the consternation of many abortion rights supporters in and out of government. (Henson, Landis and Lisanti also voted in favor of the speaker’s bill.)
Healey is running on a ticket with the other incumbents in District 22, including Sen. Paul Pinsky (D), who spoke at the abortion rights rally in Wheaton on Friday evening, and Del. Nicole Williams (D), a vocal abortion rights advocate. But the delegation in that district has traditionally not been as close as lawmakers in many other districts.
The Abortion Care Access Act passed 28-15 in the state Senate this year, and the vote to override Hogan’s veto was 29-15. In both cases, two Prince George’s County Democrats — Sens. Michael Jackson and Ron Watson — voted against the measure.
Jackson, who also represents Calvert County, has nominal opposition in next month’s primary. Watson is in a three-way race against Raaheela Ahmed, a former member of the Prince George’s County Board of Education, and Sylvia Johnson, a business owner, in a district that has traditionally elected some anti-abortion legislators.
Asked Friday if he is concerned that abortion could become a late-breaking or defining issue in his primary, Watson replied, “I’m not worried about it. We have a lot of important issues we have to deal with in this upcoming legislative session.”
It takes 29 votes in the 47-member Senate to override a governor’s veto, so the veto-proof majority is in jeopardy this year. Sen. Obie Patterson (D-Prince George’s), an abortion rights supporter, is retiring, and his likely successor, former Sen. Anthony Muse (D), has opposed most abortion rights measures during his legislative tenure.
Pro-choice Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard) is considered vulnerable in November, though Democrats tried to firm up the Democratic majority in her district in the latest round of redistricting. Democrats and abortion rights advocates have a pick-up opportunity in Anne Arundel County, where Sen. Ed Reilly (R) is retiring and Democrats are rallying around attorney Dawn Gile, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
In the 18th District, where an abortion rights supporter, Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D), is seeking a second term, Pro-Choice Maryland has endorsed his challenger, Max Socol, because of what Bolourian called Waldsteicher’s “failure to lead” on the constitutional amendment that stalled in the Senate this year.
Bolourian said her group has “absolute confidence in Max’s tenacity to push to get the strongest abortion access bills passed. My core message to anti-abortion Democrats is to expect us.”
A special session?
The House has twice launched the idea of a constitutional amendment to codify abortion rights, in 2018 and this year, but both times Senate leaders resisted. Now it is a top priority for several Democrats, including the men running for governor.
Jones reiterated that point in a statement Friday.
“It is a dark day for our country,” she said. “The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will put women’s lives in jeopardy across America. Here in Maryland, access to the full range of reproductive health services will not be limited by this decision. I will continue to put the full weight of my office behind a Maryland constitutional amendment to protect women’s healthcare and reproductive liberty. The recent decisions of the Supreme Court are dragging America backwards. We cannot and will not give up. Now is the time to mobilize for the country we all deserve.”
Earlier this week, Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) issued joint statements condemning Thursday’s Supreme Court decision on a gun rights case, and on calls to hold a special legislative session to discuss a proposed gas tax holiday. But they notably went their own way when it came to reacting to the Roe v. Wade verdict.
Ferguson’s statement said in part: “In the weeks and months to come, women will likely come to Maryland seeking reproductive care in a State that understands the importance of the right to privacy and equality. While many may now question the future of reproductive rights in America, in Maryland, that right will always be protected and enshrined in State law. We will welcome those who seek care in our State.”
Some Democrats and abortion rights advocates are now pressing the presiding officers to schedule a special session to move the constitutional amendment on abortion rights and force Hogan to fund the training this year for abortion providers. That seems unlikely for now — though matters could change.
King and Siri reiterated the call at the rally in Wheaton Friday evening.
“If folks can jump up and down out there and call for a special legislative session for a gas tax holiday, we sure as hell can have one for our bodily autonomy,” said Siri, the head of the Maryland Women’s Law Center and former president of the state’s Planned Parenthood board.
Local government reacts
Within hours of the Supreme Court decision, the Montgomery County government banned county employees from engaging in official travel to any of 25 states deemed likely to roll back access to abortion in the wake of the ruling.
“By taking action to restrict access to reproductive health care services, the following states have possibly put the health and safety of our employees at risk while on official business,” Chief Administrative Officer Richard S. Madaleno wrote in a memo to county managers.
“Our County taxpayers expect the County’s resources to uphold County values and Maryland state law,” he added.
Conference or other travel approved prior to the ruling must be canceled in those instances where monetary penalties will not be imposed, Madaleno said. The ban on official travel to anti-abortion states would not apply to members of the County Council, though they would be encouraged to follow the executive branch’s lead, a county spokesman said.
The 2023 National Association of Counties annual convention is scheduled to take place in Texas.
In an interview, Elrich, the county executive, said Montgomery intends an aggressive effort to woo companies located in states “that are about to move back to the Stone Age.”
“These tech companies that brought in all these young people to Austin, [Texas], I can’t imagine them being really comfortable there right now,” he said. “We want to encourage those companies to come to a state where everybody’s free.”
In light of the rise in remote work, Elrich said Montgomery’s campaign will target both out-of-state employers as well as employees.
Several large companies announced after the ruling that they intend to compensate workers who are forced to travel to access abortion services.
The states on Montgomery’s travel ban: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
In Baltimore on Friday, Mayor Brandon Scott (D) announced that the city would provide $300,000 in grants to organizations that offer abortion and family planning services.
“It is crucial that we invest in abortion and family planning so that we can welcome women seeking these services with open arms,” Scott said. “We are morally obligated to make Baltimore a safe haven for care-seekers, and we are committed to doing just that.”
Earlier this week, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D) and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) vowed that they would not prosecute women seeking abortions from other states, medical providers, or anyone who assists women who obtain abortions in Maryland.
“They’re doubling down to protect our staff and abortion providers all across Maryland,” said Karen Nelson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland.
Abortion rights foes in Maryland exulted in the Supreme Court ruling.
“Today we CELEBRATE!” Maryland Right to Life wrote on a Facebook post Friday.
The Maryland Catholic Conference, on Twitter, wrote: “Today’s Supreme Court decision on life is a historic moment in our nation. We renew — and invite all to join — our commitment to support both women and their children.”
Kelly, the state delegate and abortion policy leader, said Marylanders who support reproductive rights should not take Maryland’s current laws for granted. She said she fears that national anti-choice groups will start to focus more on Maryland, both with political advocacy and spending, and in intimidation of abortion providers and women seeking abortions.
“We become a target,” she said. “We are the southernmost state on the East Coast that’s considered a safe haven for abortion.”
Kelly said the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade shows how formidable the anti-abortion forces are.
“We’ve seen what this movement has been able to do,” she said. “They don’t have to expend their energy on states like Mississippi anymore. They can focus on Maryland.”
By Josh Kurtz
Bruce DePuyt and Nene Narh-Mensah contributed to this report.