Senators weigh abortion-related bills
Access to reproductive health records would be limited
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.”