Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich speaks about the county's new abortion access grant program at a press conference Thursday. Credit: Ginny Bixby

Montgomery County will provide a total of $1 million to abortion services providers in the county through a new grant program, County Executive Marc Elrich announced Thursday.

The program will provide grants ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 to community-based organizations that offer services supporting the right to access abortion care in the county.

The grants are intended to make it easier for both county residents and those traveling from out of state to access abortions and related care, according to county officials.

“We know people will travel for abortions … it’s incumbent on us to make it possible for women anywhere to deal with this in the safest way,” Elrich said during a press conference. 

He said the grant program came out of a desire to do something to help increase abortion access following the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn  Roe v. Wade. He said he is concerned about a potential return to “back-alley” abortions. 

“We see these states across the country that are moving backwards on women’s right to choose … this is not a step forward, this is a step backwards. And that’s disturbing,” Elrich said. 

Elrich was joined by other county and state officials as well as community leaders during the press conference. 

Jodi Finkelstein, executive director of the Montgomery Commission for Women, praised the grant program. 

“Montgomery County has and will continue to be leaders for women when accessing reproductive health services,” Finkelstein said. 

During the press conference, abortion rights advocate Roz Jonas shared her experience of receiving an illegal abortion in Baltimore County when she was 20, prior to the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973. Jonas had to pay hundreds of dollars out of her own pocket for the procedure, which she said was given without the aid of anesthesia. 

“Desperate women will make desperate choices. We must have access to safe abortion care,” said Jonas, who is a board member of the pro-choice advocacy nonprofit NARAL. 

Jonas said the overturning of Roe v. Wade is setting women backwards to what she had to experience getting an illegal abortion in the 1960s. 

Elrich had announced his commitment of $1 million to support abortion services providers in May, after the leak of the draft opinion that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade. A few days prior, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan had decided to withhold $3.5 million that state lawmakers had set aside for a new abortion provider training program. 

Elrich said his plan is for the grant program to continue “until we get a Supreme Court that re-establishes rights to abortion.” He hopes the county will be able to get additional funding from the state for the program. 

State Del. Ariana Kelly (D-Bethesda) commended the program in a statement released Thursday.

“This new source of funding is further proof that Maryland and Montgomery County continue to be leaders in protecting abortion access. The grants announced today will support health agencies that provide comprehensive reproductive health care to those in need, as well as those organizations fighting legal battles on behalf of abortion-seeking patients,” Kelly said. 

Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery County) said she supports the efforts to prevent the overturning of Roe v. Wade from disproportionately affecting marginalized people.

“The overturning of Roe v. Wade has had severe impacts already — we’re not talking about hypotheticals and what could happen,” she said. “We must think about the low-income women and the women of color who do not have the resources to circumvent laws, who do not have the resources to be able to travel.”

The grants will be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Grants Management. All providers must be located within the county to be eligible for the grants. Applications can be completed online at Applications for the grants opened Thursday and will close Oct. 10 at 9 a.m. The county will host a virtual information session Sept. 9 at 3:30 p.m., which will be posted to the grant application site.