Baltimore Sun

Senators weigh abortion-related bills

Access to reproducti­ve health records would be limited

- By Hannah Gaskill

Facing a changing national landscape for abortion care access, state senators considered legislatio­n Wednesday that would help protect reproducti­ve health care providers, patients and their health data.

The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Democrat Shelly Hettleman of Baltimore County, and in the House by Democrat Sandy Rosenberg of Baltimore, would prohibit records about reproducti­ve health care, including abortion, from crossing state lines via digital health informatio­n exchanges.

Patients would need to consent for their records to be transferre­d.

The Maryland Public Informatio­n Act would be amended to deny the inspection of records that contain personally identifiab­le informatio­n related to licensed surgical abortion facilities.

The legislatio­n also would require patient consent when transferri­ng pharmacy dispensing data if someone has been prescribed mifepristo­ne, the main drug used in medication abortions.

A federal judge in Texas is expected to rule in the coming days on the legality of the U.S. Food and Drug Administra­tion’s decades-old approval of mifepristo­ne.

Senate Judicial Proceeding­s Committee Chair Will Smith is sponsoring a companion bill that would prohibit Maryland from aiding other states’ criminal investigat­ions

of and court proceeding­s against patients and providers involved in abortions.

The state could assist other jurisdicti­ons in these circumstan­ces only if the acts were also criminaliz­ed in Maryland.

Additional­ly, the bill would prevent a governor from honoring requests for the extraditio­n of providers to other states for administer­ing abortion services in Maryland.

Democratic delegates Terri Hill, a physician from Howard County, and Nicole

Williams from Prince George’s County are sponsoring that legislatio­n in the House.

According to Hettleman, 14 states have put abortion bans in place since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June.

“These restrictiv­e states, however, don’t seem content to just stop abortion within their own states,” she said. “Instead, they’re adopting aggressive tactics to intimidate

“We need to close the loopholes in our data privacy laws, or else Maryland abortion patients and their providers can be too easily identified.” — Maryland Sen. Shelly Hettleman

and even criminaliz­e residents who have traveled out of state to states like Maryland to seek abortion care.”

Jurisdicti­ons with bans or restrictiv­e abortion policies also are going after abortion providers from other states, like the Indiana physician investigat­ed after providing abortion services to a 10-year-old rape survivor from Ohio.

“We need to close the loopholes in our data privacy laws, or else Maryland abortion patients and their providers can be too easily identified,” Hettleman said.

Dr. Ololade Sanusi, a family medicine practition­er from Baltimore, testified in favor of Hettleman’s legislatio­n. She told the Senate Finance Committee that she entered the medical field because she wanted to help people — “but not at the expense of the safety of myself, staff and family.”

“We, as providers, deserve a safe environmen­t to continue providing reproducti­ve health care that’s not available to our counterpar­ts in surroundin­g states and, above all, allows us to provide an environmen­t where our patients’ needs are served and not criminaliz­ed for accessing full spectrum care, which includes abortion,” Sanusi said.

In 1991 Maryland enacted a law allowing abortions to be performed until a fetus reaches viability, considered to be around 24 weeks. After that, abortions can be performed only if there’s a fetal anomaly or to protect the health of the pregnant person.

Voters codified the law in a 1992 referendum, guaranteei­ng Marylander­s keep access to abortion regardless of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

After the court heard the Dobbs v. Jackson case in late 2021, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson ushered legislatio­n to expand abortion access to the governor’s desk during the 2022 legislativ­e session.

Jones also sponsored a bill last session that would have allowed Marylander­s to vote to enshrine abortion access in the state’s constituti­on. The House passed the legislatio­n, but it did not receive a vote in the Senate.

This year Jones and Ferguson are co-sponsoring a bill to bring the question to voters during the 2024 election.

Ferguson told members of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday that he “can’t even fathom the challenge” that someone who is pregnant must undergo to seek an abortion — including the “mental anguish that can come with making that choice.”

As he presented the bill to amend the state constituti­on before the committee, Ferguson recalled his wife’s reaction on June 24, 2022, when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Dobbs case.

“I’ll never forget the moment walking down the stairs and seeing my wife in tears,” Ferguson said. “And what she said was not specific — she wasn’t seeking abortion services — what she said is, ‘Why do we always have to fight so hard for equality?’

“I think what today is about is about is saying that, here in Maryland, we believe that every individual’s right to freedom and privacy matters.”

 ?? BARBARA HADDOCK TAYLOR/BALTIMORE SUN ?? Senate President Bill Ferguson introduces SB768 on Wednesday before the Senate Finance Committee.
BARBARA HADDOCK TAYLOR/BALTIMORE SUN Senate President Bill Ferguson introduces SB768 on Wednesday before the Senate Finance Committee.

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