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Md. Senate leader drops amendment on abortion, supports other bills to boost access

ANNAPOLIS — Voters will not be asked to decide on whether to enshrine the right to an abortion in the Maryland Constitution.

A bill to do so, sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne Jones, was declared dead by Senate President Bill Ferguson. The Senate leader made the announcement after about 2 hours of debate on a separate abortion bill.

“This is going to be the only time we take up the issue this session,” Ferguson said.

The Senate on Friday gave preliminary approval on Senate Bill 890 and its cross-filed House Bill 937, which establish a $3.5 million fund that would be used to train qualified health care providers to perform abortions. Supporters said the bill is necessary to ensure there are enough qualified abortion providers in the state. The bill also ensures Medicaid coverage for the procedures.

Republicans attempted to amend the bill nearly a dozen times. And while each of the amendments were soundly defeated, the margins raised some questions, including about whether Democrats could stave off a Republican filibuster in the final two weeks of the session.

Both bills could be taken up for a final vote as early as Monday afternoon. Ferguson, speaking Friday, made it clear those bills would end the Senate’s work on the issue for 2022.

“We’ve got one more day — Monday,” he said. “I know there are lots of other possible ideas out there, but this is the issue we will take on for this session.”

Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

House Bill 1171, sponsored by Jones, is similar to one sponsored in 2019 by then-House Speaker Micael Busch that would have enshrined the right to an abortion in the state constitution.

Busch’s proposal followed concerns that the Supreme Court might overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that enshrined a woman’s right to choose.

Busch later withdrew the bill after it was blocked by then-Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Miller and others questioned the necessity of the amendment because of a 1992 Maryland law that codified the Roe decision in state law. That law was the subject of a contentious referendum battle that year.

Jones expressed similar concerns about the direction of the nation’s highest court as her bill passed the House overwhelmingly on a party-line vote two weeks ago. A hearing before the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled for Wednesday.

But votes in the Senate on the abortion provider bills raised questions about the fate of Jones’ effort. Some saw the bill as unnecessary and an election-year gimmick. Additionally, there were concerns about motivating conservatives who would oppose such an amendment to flock to the polls.

Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire said Republicans were disappointed with the bills that will likely pass Monday, adding, “we are at least in agreement with Senator Ferguson’s announcement that the proposed amendment to place abortion in the Maryland Constitution is dead for the session.”

“In 1992, abortion rights were established and settled in Maryland law,” said Simonaire, who represents Anne Arundel County. “At a time of heightened political tension, the constitutional amendment does nothing but create further divisions in our state, especially when it does not change a single abortion right by enacting it.”