2022 | Government

State Del. Ariana Kelly says Maryland has strong abortion access laws — but she’s hoping for a constitutional safeguard

Kelly spoke at a Thursday town hall held by Montgomery County Council Member Hans Riemer

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Screenshot via livestream

State Del. Ariana Kelly joined Montgomery County Council Member Hans Riemer on Thursday in a virtual town hall on abortion access in Maryland.

Kelly, a Bethesda Democrat who represents District 16, said she first got involved with the reproductive rights movement as a teenager 30 years ago.

At the time, there was a statewide referendum that codified the principles of Roe v. Wade into Maryland law. The referendum received more than 60% of the vote.

“The next time we passed an abortion-related bill in the state legislature was this year — 30 years later,” Kelly said.

Kelly sponsored the Abortion Care Access Act, which went into effect Friday. She described the law as the “most comprehensive” abortion access legislation in the nation.

The bill establishes a training program and funds to address the shortage of abortion providers in the state, including requiring the governor to appropriate $3.5 million to the training program in the annual budget bill.

It also establishes requirements regarding abortion services for the Maryland Medical Assistance Program and certain insurers, removing some financial barriers for patients.

Other states are following suit — Delaware passed a similar bill earlier this week.

Although Kelly’s bill passed through both chambers of the state legislature, Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed it. The legislature overrode his veto, allowing the bill to become a law.

Kelly, who was recently appointed vice chair of the Maryland General Assembly’s Health and Government Operations Committee, stressed the importance of having 29 state senators support her bill — since that’s the minimum needed to override a veto.

However, it wasn’t the same case for House Speaker Adrienne Jones’ bill, which would’ve added an amendment to the Maryland Constitution protecting abortion access. The legislation passed the House but failed to make it through the Senate.

“We no longer have constitutional protections at the federal level,” Kelly said. “It is really important that we get them at the state level.”

Kelly predicted that the constitutional amendment would return for debate in next year’s legislative session and that it would be prioritized, given the recent Supreme Court ruling. If the bill passes through both chambers, it will go to the state as a referendum for voters. Kelly said she would expect roughly 75% of voters to support the bill.

Allie Harper from Potomac Family Planning Center in Rockville spoke at the forum, as well.

She said that when the Supreme Court draft was leaked, the clinic began to see an uptick in patients from states like Texas, West Virginia and the Carolinas.

The clinic is facing an overload of patients, she said.

“We can’t just hire staff that start working the next day. There’s a lot of training,” Harper said. “That’s one of the obstacles that we’re facing right now.”

At times, there are protesters outside. Harper said the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force provides escorts to direct patients to the facility and keep protesters at bay.

The clinic also has a location in Hagerstown and has recently increased staffing there.

“Hopefully, we can open some of our days in our office as much as possible to accommodate as many [patients] as we can,” Harper said.

Christine Zhu of Gaithersburg, a rising junior at the University of Maryland who is studying journalism and Spanish, is the Bethesda Beat summer intern.