ANNAPOLIS – A bill that its proponents say would expand abortion access by providing $3.5 million for the training of nurse practitioners and other medical professionals to perform the procedure passed the Senate Tuesday by a vote of 28-15. Currently, only licensed physicians can perform abortions.

The bill is now on its way to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for his signature to become law.

Demonstrators display signs in favor of protecting abortion access during a demonstration at Freedom Plaza in Washington on Oct. 2, 2021. Credit: Brittany N. Gaddy / Capital News Service

The bill (HB937), titled the Abortion Care Access Act, passed the House earlier this month.

Proponents say expanding the number of abortion providers would create more access for women, particularly those living in rural communities.

The legislation was met with numerous proposed amendments, but none of them passed. Sen. Stephen S. Hershey, R- Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, proposed an amendment that would place greater regulations on which facilities could be used for abortion procedures.

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, R-Somerset, Worcester, Wicomico, said legislators should consider the mental health aspect of abortion.

“Twenty to 30% of post-abortive women suffer from serious prolonged negative psychological consequences,” Carozza said during Tuesday’s floor debate.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County, the lead sponsor in the Senate, rejected their comments.

“Literally, there is nothing about the bill that is before us that would require our creating new regulations or litigation or anything else to force people to have to have mental health screenings,” Kelley said. “In fact, it’s actually insulting.”

If the bill becomes law, it could take effect as early as July.

Language in the bill’s fiscal note states that abortions would have to be performed by a “qualified provider” rather than only by a licensed physician.

According to the bill, a qualified provider is anyone who is licensed, certified, or otherwise authorized by law to practice in Maryland, and providing an abortion is within the scope of their qualifications.

A 2021 Capital News Service analysis found that there is only one abortion clinic in each of the state’s Central and Southern regions and the Eastern Shore.

“The main thing that the bill is doing is not to add to abortions or to deny them,” Kelley said. “It is to help us to have available practitioners in Maryland for something that has been legal here since 1991.”

The House reviewed the bill and sent it to Hogan for his possible signature.

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