The critical issue raised by the Abortion Care Access Act, the controversial legislation signed into law by the Maryland General Assembly last Saturday with votes in the House (90-46) and Senate (29-15) override Governor Larry Hogan’s veto, was it: Should abortions be performed by “qualified” health care providers who are not doctors? Opponents of the bill would have Marylanders believe that a standard pregnancy termination cannot be performed safely, for example, by a nurse practitioner or medical assistant specially trained in this procedure. This would be news for the medical community. It was none other than the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists who discovered that non-physicians can be trained to perform this procedure. And when did the organization that represents 90 percent of the nation’s board-certified obstetricians first make that decision?
Yet there was the Republican Governor of Maryland, who, to his political advantage in a majority Democratic state, so shrewdly evaded the issue of abortion during his two terms, attempting to use this little fig leaf of a medical scare to justify a veto that puts him most clearly and definitively on the actively anti-choice camp.
In a letter dated April 8 to House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, Mr. Hogan complains that House Bill 937 “endangers the health and lives of women” and that the “only” impact of the bill would be to “roll back standards of health care for women”. This is obviously false. Indeed, the best argument can be made that restricting access to abortion—a significant problem for low-income women in parts of Maryland, but a particularly compounding circumstance nationally—is the threat much more serious for the health of women for a number of reasons.
On the contrary, expanding access to abortion in Maryland was lagging behind. The passage of the legislation was largely fueled by the prospect of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling restricting the right to abortion later this year – in addition to the growing number of states that have curtailed women’s reproductive freedoms. In Texas, for example, a medical professional who performs an abortion on a fetus over six weeks old (or even “helps” or “encourages” one) faces a potential civil lawsuit from a member of the general public. Americans are certainly welcome to have their own personal, often deeply held, religious beliefs about pregnancy and that women should be in control of their bodies. But they should not be able to impose these beliefs on others, including victims of rape and incest.
Some Republicans in the state Legislature said it was “radical” and that Maryland could soon become a “destination” for women seeking to terminate their pregnancies but unable to do so in their home state. It would be, according to opponents, a sad day for the state. They are right on at least one point. It is, indeed, sad that women have to travel long distances to receive medical care made available to them by religious fanatics in their local jurisdictions. What if Maryland, one of America’s premier healthcare destinations with world-class medical facilities, became known as a place where women, including the underprivileged, can find help that is right for them? refused elsewhere? It is never drastic to provide the necessary health care to the people who need it. Maryland should not shirk its obligation to do the right thing.
We recognize, of course, that abortion has long been a politically polarizing issue. But nationally, the numbers speak for themselves. Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans support a woman’s right to choose in most or all circumstances. We also recognize that most Americans believe that, in the words of Bill and Hillary Clinton, “abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.” Opponents would do much better to invest in the prevention of pregnancies which is the best way to reduce the number of abortions performed in this country.
Meanwhile, voters in Maryland should not allow Republican candidates, especially those seeking statewide office, to use the patently false argument of medical safety to oppose the improving access to abortion. To use another Clintonism, “this dog will not hunt”.
While reproductive rights can be a complex and nuanced issue, the assertion that a nurse practitioner cannot be trained to perform a safe abortion – as even doctors have long accepted as a perfectly reasonable mission – is a blatant smokescreen for those who oppose it. a woman’s right to choose but doesn’t like to admit it, at least not to voters.
The Baltimore Sun’s editorial writers offer opinion and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the press room.