This time last year, pro-abortion and anti-abortion activists were reeling at the news of a leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would spell the end of federal abortion protections under Roe v. Wade. Politico published the leaked draft ruling on May 2, 2022, and the official decision came down in June, leaving abortion laws up to state legislatures.
A year later, Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed into law a bundle of legislation aiming to protect Marylanders’ ability to access abortion care in the state, declaring that “Maryland will always be a safe haven for abortion access and abortion rights.”
“We are living at a time when the Supreme Court is actively working to take Americans’ rights away, instead of expanding,” Moore said ahead of the Wednesday bill signing. “We are living at a time when nearly half of all the states in our country are moving towards banning or seriously restricting abortion access.”
One of the major bills approved by the governor Wednesday will give voters the opportunity to amend the state constitution to affirm that Marylanders have a “fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” including the right to prevent, continue, or end one’s pregnancy.
House Bill 705, which proposes the constitutional amendment, has been sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) for the past two years. It was co-sponsored this year by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City).
The issue will come to Maryland voters in the 2024 general election, and a majority will need to approve the measure for the amendment to be enacted.
Additionally, the governor also signed Senate Bill 859/House Bill 808, which shields health care providers from liability if they help out-of-state patients receive an abortion. Those bills were sponsored by Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) and Del. Nicole Williams (D-Prince George’s).
Another abortion-related bill requires that public 4-year universities provide reproductive health services or refer a student to such services. Another protects the medical privacy of those who seek out an abortion.
“Being a health care leader means providing more and better access to health care resources. It means equal access to care. We need to be working to lower health disparities and improve health outcomes in communities that have been historically underserved,” Jones said Wednesday.
“Securing reproductive care is at the top of that list, because it has been so aggressively attacked,” she said.
Abortion legislation was just one of several health care-related bills that were signed on Wednesday.
Moore also signed the Trans Health Equity Act, which expands Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming health care “consistent with current clinical standards of care,” including hormone therapy and puberty blockers, voice training and therapy, and body alterations that affirm someone’s gender identity.
The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City and County) and Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery).
“To all trans and non-binary Marylanders, you deserve to be your authentic selves,” Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D) said at the bill signing. “You deserve to have equal access to health care, and you deserve to live safely, openly and freely.”
Another widely anticipated bill signed Wednesday was emergency legislation legalizing adult-use cannabis sales beginning July 1 and expanding the number of licenses available in the industry.
Also signed were seven bills that were backed by a bipartisan group of senators in February aimed at improving the state’s mental health care programs.
The package of bills are intended to establish a network for community behavioral health clinics throughout the state, reform mental health reimbursement programs to reward providers with positive outcomes, preserve telehealth policies that were expanded during the COVID pandemic, grow a “collaborative care” model that encourages mental and physical health treatment in the same medical setting, expand intensive in-home behavioral care for youth, and establish a behavioral health commission to make other recommendations to improve care.
Senate Bill 601/House Bill 814, extends a pilot program for young people to receive state subsidies to reduce the cost of health care in the state, making it easier for them to afford health care. Those bills were sponsored by Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery) and Del. Kenneth Kerr (D-Frederick).
Also signed Wednesday were Senate Bill 26/House Bill 111, which intends to make it easier for low-income Marylanders to enroll in health insurance by enrolling Marylanders who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, into Medicaid if they are not already enrolled. Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s) and Del. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery) carried those bills during the session.
This article was originally published on MarylandMatters.org and is republished with permission.