The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill Tuesday that would increase access to abortion by lifting the restriction that only physicians can perform them and forcing most insurance plans to cover abortion treatment at no cost.
The legislation was approved by the Senate on a 28-15 vote. This sends the bill to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, whose office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his stance on the issue. The governor has stated that he personally opposes abortion, despite the fact that the topic is settled law in the state.
Supporters argue that Maryland does not have enough abortion providers to meet the state’s needs. In an earlier debate, Sen. Delores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat who is sponsoring a Senate version of the bill, highlighted that most counties do not have a single supplier.
“This is a big deal,” Karen Nelson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, stated.”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 law would lift a legal bar that prevented nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and physician assistants from performing abortions. It would establish an abortion care training programme and would require $3.5 million in state money each year.
Opponents argued that the policy went too far.
“This bill is expanding further out,” Sen. Justin Ready, a Carroll County Republican said. “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 bill also seeks to ensure equal access to abortion coverage, whether through private insurance or Medicaid. It would require commercial insurance plans to cover abortion care without cost-sharing or deductibles, with the exception of those with legal exclusions.
The new conservative majority on the United States Supreme Court is debating whether to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that prohibited states from criminalising abortion.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organisation that promotes abortion rights, if they do, at least 26 states are expected to either outright outlaw abortion or severely restrict access.
As a result, many women would be forced to travel to neighbouring states to obtain abortions, prompting Democratic-led states like Maryland to enact new legislation to prepare for them.