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Roe threat enlivens Maryland’s governor race

5/3/2022 | Erin Cox, Ovetta Wiggins

The Washington Post

Several Democrats want abortion rights in the state constitution. Republicans are divided over whether to gut existing protections.

The leaked draft of a Supreme Court majority opinion overturning federal abortion rights energized a competitive field of gubernatorial candidates in Maryland, where there is expansive abortion access and a wide-open race for governor.

The leaked opinion, which was obtained by Politico, stoked the possibility that one of the nation’s most divisive issues could lure more primary voters to Maryland polls during the summer doldrums, giving new urgency to the long-simmering potential the landmark Roe v Wade decision protecting abortion rights would fall.

“It will be an incredibly motivating factor on both sides of the political spectrum,” said Quincey Gamble, a veteran Democratic strategist of how the issue is expected to re-energize voters across the country and even in Maryland, a state with some of the nation’s strongest protections. “We have so many folks in this country who have a one-item agenda: abortion and reproductive rights.”

As Republican lawmakers across the country pushed to restrict abortion access, Democratic candidates in Maryland united in their rage against the prospect of curtailed federal rights. Several promised to revive a state constitutional amendment that the General Assembly did not put on the ballot this fall, and many warned voters what could happen if Republicans captured the Maryland governor’s mansion for the third term in a row.

Former U.S. education secretary and gubernatorial candidate John B. King Jr. told a Facebook Live audience on Tuesday morning that Maryland needs to strengthen its already strong protections.

“We could be at the precipice of a really massive rollback of critical freedoms and protections,” he said. “And so that makes it even more important that we organize, that we protest, that we demand different, that we vote like we’ve never voted before and that we elect leaders who are committed to reproductive justice and the protection of civil liberties for LGBTQ folks.”

The two Republican primary candidates, meanwhile, were divided on whether they would uphold the state’s three-decade-old law to protect abortion access. Maryland is one of a handful of states that permit abortion for any reason until viability and in several circumstances afterward, as well as use taxpayer dollars to pay for the procedure for Medicaid patients.

Kelly Schulz, a former Cabinet secretary under Gov. Larry Hogan (R), had sought to limit abortions when she was a state delegate. But on Tuesday, she took a page from her former boss and promised that although she was “personally pro-life, as governor, nothing will change with respect to current Maryland law on the issue.

Her opponent, Del. Daniel L. Cox (Frederick), who this year sought to dramatically curtail abortion access during the General Assembly session, called the Roe v. Wade decision “faulty” and cheered that it appears poised to be struck down. He noted that Donald Trump endorsed him and credited the former president’s judicial appointments as critical to an antiabortion victory.

“I will follow a similar strict constructionist constitutional standard to appoint judges in Maryland to defend the freedoms of all,” Cox said in a text message.

State law guarantees abortion rights until a fetus is viable outside of the womb, though the procedure can be performed later in pregnancy if the mother’s health is in jeopardy or if there is a fetal anomaly.

State lawmakers expanded abortion access this year but fell short of putting a constitutional referendum on the ballot. Under current law, only physicians are allowed to perform abortions, a restriction that abortion advocates said left two-thirds of the state’s counties without an abortion provider. The new legislation, which takes effect July 1, lets physician assistants, midwives and nurse practitioners, as well as other properly trained medical providers, perform the procedure as 14 other states do.

Last month, lawmakers overturned Hogan’s veto of the abortion expansion bill.

And at the close of the 90-day session, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said he chose to focus on expanding providers, including a veto override, rather than a constitutional amendment.

“We knew the problem here in Maryland was access; that was the problem that needed to be solved,” Ferguson said when asked why the measure did not make it to the Senate floor for a vote. “At the end of the day, that was the priority. On very tough issues like this that are emotionally challenging, people have very firmly held beliefs. You only have so much leeway on the floor before you can kind of hit a breaking point, and it was my decision in consultation with Republicans and Democrats that what we needed to do was solve the problem. The problem was access, so that was the bill we moved forward.”

Ferguson declined to revisit the decision on Tuesday.

Gamble said the draft opinion underscores why elections matter. He said Republicans see the benefit of turning out and electing GOP candidates “and they don’t want to lose any of the ground that they perceive they are making in that quest.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, he said, has not effectively connected “the dots between our value systems, the importance of our voting and the ramifications of high Democratic turnout and electing Democrats and the consequences of low Democratic turnout and not electing Democrats.”