Maryland Expands Abortion Access As Lawmakers Override Republican Governor

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Maryland has become the 15th US state to allow health professionals other than doctors to carry out abortions, as part of a bill expanding access to reproductive rights for women.

Under the new law, midwives, senior nurses, and trained doctor’s assistants will be authorized to perform medical abortions from 1 July. The bill also directs the state to ring-fence $3.5m a year for abortion-care training.

The bill was vetoed by the Republican governor, Larry Hogan, but approved on Saturday with substantial majorities in the statehouse and senate.

Hogan claimed in an open letter the bill would “endanger the health and lives of women” and “set back standards for women’s health care and safety”.

There is no evidence that allowing advanced clinicians to provide abortion care in states including California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, and New Hampshire has led to lower standards.

The law, which may face legal challenges from anti-choice groups, also requires most insurance companies to cover the cost of an abortion at no cost to the patient. The average cost of an abortion is $500 but costs vary widely across the US and can be much higher when accounting for travel and days off work.

The Maryland legislation comes amid a surge in bills in Republican-run states seeking to severely restrict or ban access to abortion.

Last week, a young woman was jailed in Texas after being accused of causing the “death of an individual by self-induced abortion”.

Lizelle Herrera, 26 and from Starr county, was released on Sunday after charges were dropped amid widespread condemnation.

Lawyers and rights groups warned that the incident would have a chilling effect on women, even though the current law in Texas explicitly exempts women from being criminalized for any self-managed abortion.

Research suggests that hundreds if not thousands of women in Texas have been forced to cross state lines to access abortion care since the state enacted an almost total ban last year.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group, lawmakers in 19 states approved a record-breaking 108 abortion restrictions in 2021 – more than any other year since the 1973 Roe v Wade supreme court ruling which established the right to abortion.

By the end of March 2022, 529 restrictions had been introduced across 41 states. The supreme court is poised to severely weaken or overturn Roe later this year.

In 2017, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation guaranteeing to fund Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider, regardless of federal cuts.