The topic of abortion is heating up in the Maryland General Assembly’s Senate chamber. After more than two hours of debate Friday, lawmakers advanced Senate Bill 890 with a favorable report.
The bill would establish the Abortion Care Clinical Training Program under the Maryland Department of Health. Bill sponsor Senator Delores Kelley says the goal is to allow nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants to perform abortions. “At this point in time, we do not have enough persons to do abortions in Maryland, given the need,” she said. “Most of our counties have not a single abortion provider.”
The training program would be funded through an annual budget appropriation of $3.5 million. Sen. Kelley says many of those who would become eligible for the training are already tasked with overseeing the entirety of pregnancies that do come to term. The training under the bill would only bolster their ability to provide safe abortion care, according to Sen. Kelley. “We want to update the law to reflect, and to include, those practitioners that now have the training, and is within their scope of practice, and who have a license to do it,” she said.
The legislation that Sen. Kelley wants to update is a 1991 law that restricted the ability to carry out abortion procedures to licensed physicians. “That was prior to having nurse practitioners and a number of other well-trained health occupations which now involved in the delivery and the management of pregnancies,” said Sen. Kelley.
Since then, Sen. Kelley says abortion options in Maryland have dwindled. The Senator cited concerns over medical malpractice, and the shortage of health care workers brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have to deal with the world that is. It’s not all beautiful. Things happen, and they sometimes happen to people who totally are victimized,” said Sen. Kelley. “They have made no choice to become a mom. They have taken no action that should make them have to bear a child. They are not prepared to be anybody else’s parent. They still need to be parented.”
During Friday’s floor debate, a number of lawmakers raised concerns over the bill. Republican lawmakers offered up nine amendments to Senate Bill 890. Each one was rejected.
Senator Mary Beth Carozza said the issue wasn’t about restricting or expanding abortion access; instead, Sen. Carozza expressed worry over the ability to ensure that those who are not physicians can ensure the difference between life and death for women who choose abortion.
“The Abortion Training Act [sic] is no safe haven. Instead, it puts the health of Maryland women at risk,” said Sen. Carozza. “Abortions are already risky. Severe injury and death can occur from hemorrhaging and infection. 1 in 50 surgical abortions require additional surgery to manage complications.”
Sen. Carozza also said that the majority of Marylanders do not want their tax dollars to be spent on abortions or training to carry out the procedures. “Many physicians and citizens do not want their hard-earned tax dollars subsidizing the abortion industry, which so frequently prioritize abortion profits before the health of the women they should be serving,” she said.
Senator Addie Eckardt told 47 ABC on Monday that she does not plan to support the bill, either. “This one essentially says that you can change the scope of practice to be able to essentially do abortion on demand,” she said. “How do we know individuals are proficient in that? That’s what you have to do, whether you’re a CNA or advanced practice nurse, or a physician.”
Sen. Eckardt says the topic is a difficult one to juggle. “I listen every week to horror stories about how loved ones are not receiving the care they need in facilities,” she said. “Maryland does have some of the most liberal abortion law on the books. This would just be a huge deviation from where we have been.”
Even with tough questions at hand, bill sponsors say quick action is needed in Maryland, as the Supreme Court gears up to tackle the topic itself. “The Supreme Court is expected to make a really important decision, in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,” said Senator Shelly Hettleman. “This is about a Mississippi abortion restriction. But, it’s really intended to affect the entire country.”
Sen. Hettleman says even more concerning, is the possibility that the upcoming Supreme Court ruling could pave the way for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. “All the legal predictions are that the Supreme Court will damage, or even overturn Roe. This means that a woman’s right to make decisions about her own medical care will be left to the states,” she said. “We can expect that people will go to places where they can more readily get this really important health care procedure.”
Senate Bill 890 is now on to a third reading before the Senate.