For years, Maryland’s two-term Republican governor has danced around the topic of abortion in an effort to offend neither his party’s culture warriors nor the overwhelming majority of voters in this state who support a woman’s right to choose. He was against abortion, he would readily admit, but was not interested in changing Maryland’s abortion laws. And that sort of inoffensive, pseudo neutrality sufficed, helping him twice win statewide election. But this week, the ground shifted through two events: the leak of a draft US Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade and the long-standing rights of women to terminate an unwanted pregnancy without undue government restriction and Governor’s Hogan’s decision to withhold $3.5 million that the Maryland General Assembly intended to have spent this year to train an expanded list of abortion providers.
Make no mistake, Mr. Hogan’s choice to deny funding for abortion training — as provided under the Abortion Care Access Act, the legislation twice approved this year by the Maryland General Assembly (the second as an override of the governor’s veto) — was not some attempt to protect women’s health by limiting who can perform abortions, as his spokesperson has claimed. Quite the opposite. At least 14 states allow health professionals other than doctors, such as nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants, to provide abortion care, as has long been recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. And given the likelihood of an adverse ruling on abortion rights by the nation’s highest court, the far more realistic consequence of the governor’s disastrous decision is that more women will be denied medical care. Potentially, that includes victims of rape and incest, those carrying nonviable fetuses and any number of other horrible circumstances.
Maintaining the status quo on abortion is not neutrality; this amounts to an assault on women’s rights. The time came to choose sides and the governor went with the majority of his Republican peers — unsurprising, perhaps, given his political aspirations, but still disappointing in a state where polls have shown overwhelming support for a woman’s right to choose (as high as 88%, according to a 2021 Goucher College Poll).
The political fallout so far has been predictable. On the Republican side, Mr. Hogan’s preferred successor, former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz who has favored abortion restrictions in the past when she was a state legislator has tried to follow the governor’s lead acknowledging that, in Maryland, abortion is settled law under a 30-year-old voter-approved referendum. Her chief opponent, Donald Trump acolyte Del. Dan Cox, has been unabashed in his support for the conservative justices and the prospect of reduced access to abortion in Maryland and elsewhere. On the Democratic side, candidates have denounced the Supreme Court’s expected action, with Comptroller Peter Franchot surely the first to call on Mr. Hogan to release training funds to maintain Maryland’s standing as a “national leader in protecting women’s rights, freedom and health care.”
Clearly, Maryland Democrats should have taken bolder action to protect women’s rights before 2022. But at least they have not been shy about where they stand. Republicans (and their Supreme Court nominees) have often been far more coy, and, even now, a lot of anti-abortion firebrands in Congress have refrained from cheering for the leaked opinion. Why? Because they, too, can read polling data that shows that many Americans who personally oppose abortion don’t want government to make that decision for them or others . Republicans know they’ve unleashed a whirlwind and are uninterested in heightening the public’s outrage, if at all possible.
Governor Hogan still has time to reverse himself, of course. And we would urge him to restore those health care training funds. Otherwise, a lot of damage will be done. And not just to his reputation as a political pragmatist unafraid to challenge former President Trump and his minions, but to the health and safety of women in crisis who deserve better than to be treated as a political prop.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.