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General Assembly will consider bills to enshrine reproductive rights in the Maryland Constitution


General Assembly will consider bills to enshrine reproductive rights in the Maryland Constitution

Feb 07, 2023 | 6:22 pm ET
By William F. Zorzi
General Assembly will consider bills to enshrine reproductive rights in the state consitution
Protesters at the Supreme Court in March 2020. Photo by Robin Bravender.

Legislation to enshrine reproductive rights in the Maryland Constitution is now pending in the General Assembly, after bills were introduced in both houses that would put the question of approval to voters.

The legislation, which would create a higher bar to overturn Maryland’s statutory protections for abortion, is identical to a bill introduced last year by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) that passed the House of Delegates, but died in the Senate.

The measure would amend the state Constitution, which means it must pass both houses of the legislature by a three-fifths vote – 85 of 141 votes in the House and 29 of 47 votes in the Senate. If approved, the measure would appear on the ballot in November 2024.

House Bill 705, sponsored again by Speaker Jones, along with 80 other cosponsors, was introduced Monday night at the House’s pro forma session and sent to the Health and Government Operations Committee for a hearing.

“The right to make decisions about one’s body should never be up for debate,” Jones tweeted Monday. “Today, we took a huge step in guaranteeing that’s the case in MD. Proud to reintroduce my constitutional [amendment] to affirm reproductive freedom in Maryland & ensure our rights are never a bargaining chip.”

Across the hall, the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 798 is Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), along with 18 other cosponsors. The legislation was also introduced at the Monday night session and sent to the Finance Committee.

The Senate president said he expected the legislation to pass this year.

But, Ferguson added, “It’s going to be contentious. It’s another one that is going to have, I would imagine, extended debate, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established abortion as a constitutional right. The high court’s 6-3 decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case has forced each state to set its own abortion laws.

“In a post-Roe world … the states are left again to make sure we are protecting our populace; so, that’s why this constitutional amendment is important,” Ferguson said.

Asked earlier whether Senate Republicans had discussed filibustering the Constitutional amendment, Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore), the minority leader, said, “I’m sure that’s a natural path.”

Hershey said a cloture vote ending debate would not be a Republican decision, but rather one up to the Senate president, a Democrat.

Nevertheless, he said, “I’m sure we’ll talk about it at length.”

The language proposed in the legislation would add a new Article 48 to the Maryland Constitution stating:

“That every person, as a central component of an individual’s rights to liberty and equality, has the fundamental right to reproductive freedom, including but not limited to the ability to make and effectuate decisions to prevent, continue, or end one’s own pregnancy. The state may not, directly or indirectly, deny, burden, or abridge the right unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.