Maryland enacted the most sweeping change to its abortion laws in three decades on Saturday, as Democratic state lawmakers overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto.
Hogan vetoed the legislation Friday evening, saying that it threatened women’s well being to remove a long-standing restriction that prevented anyone but physicians to perform abortions.
The Democratic supermajority in the General Assembly promptly overrode him on several liberal priorities that forced him to take a stand on issues he had largely been able to avoid. The lawmakers created a paid family leave program to subsidize 12 weeks off work, put in new restrictions for gun deals, and barred police from interrogating children unless a parent or lawyer is present.
Maryland’s abortion debate has been emotional, as lawmakers on both sides of the argument publicly revealed personal stories of still birth, rape, adoption, pregnancy or fetal abnormalities. They invoked God, freedom, the history of oppression of women and, regardless of their party, hope for a different future.
Republicans noted Maryland already has some of the country’s friendliest abortion laws, which allow the procedure until the fetus is viable and afterward in cases of fetal problems or a danger to the mother’s health. They characterized the new law as a “radical” expansion.
“Do not double down on extremism and murder of the unborn,” Del. Rachel Parker Muñoz (R-Anne Arundel) said. “I promise that if you do, history will not look back on you kindly.”
Democrats said the new law doesn’t expand when someone can seek an abortion, only increases the number of people who could provide it so that pregnant people do not face long waits or financial barriers once they’ve decided to get an abortion.
“It is not “radical” to ensure access to health care when people need it,” said Del. Emily Shetty (D-Montgomery).
Under the new abortion law, passed with only Democratic votes, medical providers who already care for pregnant people — midwives, physicians assistants and nurse practitioners — would also be able to perform an abortion. The state also sets aside $3.5 million a year to train medical professionals to do the procedure, something Democrats say is a critical continuing education investment and Republicans viewed as an inappropriate use of tax dollars.
Two thirds of Maryland counties have no abortion providers, the law’s advocates said. Amid the uncertainty of whether the Supreme Court will uphold the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, advocates feared the state’s existing providers would become overwhelmed if the procedure was widely curtailed elsewhere and women from outside Maryland began arriving for abortions.
“You could easily rename this bill ‘The Abortion Tourism Act of 2022’ because that’s what this bill really does,” said Del. Matthew Morgan (R-St. Mary’s), sarcastically adding: “It basically expands it to anybody but the receptionist.”
House Government Operations Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass (D-Howard) helped push the law to passage during her 28th and final legislative session. On Saturday, she told her colleagues they ought to respect each other and to respect women enough to vote for the law.
“Your conscience is a personal thing,” she said. “Your conscience and your religion is not my conscience and my religion. We are allowing women the autonomy — to use their brains and their conscience — to make decisions about their lives.”
A handful of Democrats joined Republicans in opposing it, though none spoke about the issue.
Republicans said they were ashamed Maryland would use taxpayer money to train abortion providers and widen access to a procedure they find morally reprehensible. “I’m not proud of Maryland becoming known as an abortion destination,” Sen. Mary Beth Corroza (R-Worcester) said.
But Democrats countered that Maryland voters established the right to abortion with a referendum in 1992, and that public servants are required to respect that and modernize laws to reflect it.
“We all know that we voted right the first time and need to hold up the work that was done,” Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) said.
Democrats also united behind creating a new paid family leave law that would likely operate similarly to the state’s unemployment insurance program, where a tax on workers and employers would fund subsidized leave.
Beginning in 2025, Maryland workers will be able to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a sick family member, a newborn or a new adopted child, among other instances.
With the override of Hogan’s veto, Maryland will become the tenth state to offer the job-protection benefit.
Paid family leave became a top priority of the Democratic-controlled legislature this year after workers’ rights advocates mounted a strong lobby highlighting the impact the pandemic had on workers trying to balance illness and jobs.
“This is a social safety net program,” said Del. Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery), one of the first sponsors of the bill nearly a decade ago. “If we learned anything during the pandemic, it is people have depended on social safety nets.”
In his veto message, Hogan argued that the measure will have a detrimental effect on small businesses. Employers with 15 or more workers would have to pay into a fund and, similar to unemployment insurance, employees would also have to make a weekly contribution.
Senate Minority Leader Justin Ready (R-Carroll) said the bill was ill conceived and amounts to a “payroll tax” on every worker in the state and most businesses and was estimated to cost as much as $1.6 million a year.
The bill does not place a cap on the payroll deduction or indicate how much employees and employers would have to contribute. It leaves that decision to the state Department of Labor. Del. April Rose (R-Carroll) compared the bill to “building an airplane while running down the runway.”
Economic Matters Committee Chairman C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) said lawmakers have been “discussing this since the early 20th century. … It’s never a good time. It’s never a good time. If not now, when? … We’re not going to say let’s wait another year.”
Sen. Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), a former small business owner, recalled paying one of her employees when she took off when her father was sick and later died, then to help her mother to care for her brother who was diagnosed with cancer. She said the following year the worker was in a cancer battle herself.
Beidle said she continued to pay the worker. She said she as an employer would have benefited if paid leave had been in place.
“This may have cost her $6 a week,” Beidle said. “I think this is good for employers. And I think this is a very reasonable way to take care of employees.”
The legislature also reversed Hogan’s veto of a bill requiring firearm dealers to implement specific anti-theft precautions, force faster action on commuter railroad expansion, allow public defenders to form a union and require children who are being interrogated to have access to counsel.