Abortion Law in Maryland

January 26, 1992

If the Supreme Court upholds Pennsylvania's new restrictions on abortions this summer, it probably will not do so in a way that changes the legal situation in Maryland. But it may.

In Maryland, restrictive abortion laws written in the 1960s are on the books but have been ruled unconstitutional as long as Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision, is still in effect. The most likely outcome in the Pennsylvania case is that the court will uphold that state's laws in a way that leaves Roe's finding of a woman's abortion rights intact and fairly broadly defined.

Yet whatever the Supreme Court decides is going to have an impact in Maryland.

Assuming the court upholds Pennsylvania's restrictions in a way that does not change the status quo in Maryland, many Pennsylvanians who now can get relatively inexpensive, legal and hassle-free abortions at home will cross the Mason-Dixon Line to have that procedure done in Maryland. For example, the new Pennsylvania laws require a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion. A rural woman of modest means might not be able to afford to drive to Pittsburgh and spend the night in order to have an abortion. But she could afford a day trip to Hagerstown. Other women in other circumstances would also be able to accomplish in Maryland what is now forbidden in Pennsylvania.

If Pennsylvania's abortion laws are upheld by the Supreme Court, this would "functionally overrule Roe" for the state's women, as Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger puts it. The idea that such a basic privacy right could vary so greatly from state to state caricatures federalism. It is almost as if women could vote in one state but not in the one next door. The United States put that kind of states' right nonsense behind it long ago.

Should the Supreme Court overturn Roe this summer, Maryland's old law would be back in force. It is unduly restrictive. A new law enacted last year is much better. The new statute, which essentially codifies Roe, was petitioned to referendum and cannot take effect until November, upon an affirmative vote by the general public. Yes, just when you thought it was safe to go to the polls without having to be subjected to a single-issue referendum cross-fire (like the one on handguns in 1988), pro- and anti-abortion advocates from all over the nation will be descending on the state to fight over Maryland's new abortion laws.

What a travesty it would be if the Supreme Court's Pennsylvania decision forced Maryland to reimpose its old abortion restrictions from July to November, after the legislature and governor approved doing away with those very restrictions. We believe only an outright overturning of Roe would have that result. But until the court has spoken, no one can be sure. Nor can anyone be sure how the court's decision will affect this fall's abortion referendum. Marylanders may have as much at stake in the Pennsylvania case as do our neighbors on the northern side of the Mason-Dixon Line.

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