Maryland voters to decide on state constitutional right to abortion in 2024

The Maryland State Legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment to voters that would add a new article to the Declaration of Rights in the state constitution establishing a right to reproductive freedom, defined to include “the ability to make and effectuate decisions to prevent, continue, or end one’s own pregnancy.”

The amendment was introduced as Senate Bill 798 on Feb. 6, 2023. On March 14, the state Senate passed SB 798 in a vote of 32-15. On March 30, the state House passed SB 798 in a vote of 98-38. 

Currently, abortion is legal in Maryland until viability. Abortion is legal after viability if the woman’s life or health is endangered or there is a fetal anomaly.

Pro-Choice Maryland, Common Cause Maryland, the Maryland AFL-CIO, and Maryland State Education Association were among the organizations that asked the Legislature to pass the bill. In legislative testimony, Sharon Blugis, interim executive director of Pro-Choice Maryland, wrote, “Access to safe, legal, and accessible abortion and reproductive health care is not only a moral imperative, but it also has enormous social, economic, and health benefits to individuals, families, and communities.”

Dr. Frank Arlinghaus testified in opposition to the amendment, writing, “[A]mending the Maryland Constitution is an unusual and extreme measure, and this bill would take an extreme position on abortion, restricting the legislature’s opportunities to pass reasonable restrictions on abortion in late pregnancy or to restrict it as other healthcare.” 

The Maryland Catholic Conference, Maryland Family Institute, Maryland Right to Life, and the Hope Movement also testified in opposition to the amendment. 

In 2022, three states—California, Michigan, and Vermont—became the first states to adopt constitutional amendments establishing a right to abortion.

In 2024, voters in New York will also decide on a constitutional amendment related to a state right to abortion. The Hawaii State Legislature is also considering adding an abortion right amendment to the ballot. In Ohio, signatures are being gathered for an initiative that would appear on the Nov. 2023 ballot.

From 1970 to November 2022, there were 53 abortion-related ballot measures, and 43 (81%) of these had the support of organizations that described themselves as pro-life. Voters approved 11 (26%) and rejected 32 (74%) of these 43 ballot measures. The other 10 abortion-related ballot measures had the support of organizations that described themselves as pro-choice or pro-reproductive rights. Voters approved seven (70%) and rejected three (30%).

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