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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Franchot wants Md. to divest from Alabama following abortion law

Comptroller Peter Franchot. (Bryan P. Sears)

Comptroller Peter Franchot. (Bryan P. Sears)

A controversial Alabama abortion law is drawing ire in Maryland and a call for the state to review its investments in the southern state with an eye toward divestment.

The Alabama legislation, which is seen as a potential challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, was signed into law this week by that state’s governor and has quickly drawn either plaudits by abortion foes or criticism from pro-choice advocates around the nation. Comptroller Peter Franchot told a gathering of bankers in Timonium that he wants to determine where the state’s pension system invests in Alabama with an eye toward ending those financial relationships.

“This is an extremist position,” said Franchot, calling Alabama’s government “a theocracy.”

“The only thing they will listen to other than this theocracy is money,” said Franchot.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed the law on Wednesday. The measure effectively bans all forms of abortion except in the case of a threat to the life of the mother. There are no exceptions for abortions in the case of incest or rape.

“Today, I signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act,” Ivey said in a statement on social media. “To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious & that every life is a sacred gift from God.”

States around the country are considering or passing laws to ban or protect abortions. Earlier this year Indiana passed legislation barring second-trimester abortions. Ohio passed a bill barring abortions once a heartbeat can be detected. In North Carolina, there is an effort to override a veto of the so-called “Born Alive” bill that mandates medical care for babies that survive abortion procedures. An earlier law passed in the same state that banned abortions after the 20th week was overturned by a federal court.

Similarly, Alabama’s law is expected to face legal challenges.

Franchot called the Alabama law an “affront to “the dignity of women” around the country including in Maryland, where state taxpayers fund the state portion of the retirement system.

Franchot is vice chairman of the state’s retirement and pension system as well as one-third of the Board of Public Works’ membership.

The comptroller said he is asking his staff assigned to work with the pension system to begin identifying investments or financial connections with Alabama. Similarly, he has ordered all of his staff to not travel to the state for business or conferences, though he added that he was not aware if any such travel was scheduled.

Franchot also plans on asking the staff with the Board of Public Works to provide an itemized list of contracts and financial dealings with Alabama-based contractors or consultants.

“This will give us the data to see one way or the other if the state is subsidizing this kind of extremism that is coming out of Alabama right now,” said Franchot.

The comptroller said he hopes to expand his effort to Maryland professional and college sports teams and will reach out to public officials in other states and ask them to join in boycotting Alabama until the ban is undone.

A spokesman for the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System declined to comment.

“Neither the staff of the State Retirement Agency nor the board chair have been contacted by the Comptroller on his request,” the spokesman said.

There is some precedent for such financial bans, though they are rare. The state and other local governments in Maryland have used divestment as a tool for social protest on international issues, including the apartheid system in South Africa.

Franchot acknowledged that such actions by the retirement board are rare.

“Generally the board takes a hands off,  laissez-faire approach to these issues because we do have a fiduciary responsibility to the system and ensuring that we do nothing to hurt the investments or state retirees,” said Franchot. “This one may be different.”


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