By Julie Biasotti, Director of Administration, MDRTL
There is exciting news from the state of Maryland with two significant victories for life during the abbreviated 2020 Maryland General Assembly. Senate Bill 664 (SB664), an Abortion Amendment that threatened to enshrine abortion in the Maryland state constitution was successfully opposed. Senate Bill 701 (SB701) Physician Assisted Suicide was denied any vote. Several other bills were defeated, including House Bill 96, which would have redefined a human embryo as a gamete, effectively deregulating the trafficking of embryos. In the process of securing these legislative wins, Maryland Right to Life (MDRTL) skillfully lead the unification of the community of pro-life organizations scattered throughout the state. Through unprecedented church outreach, grassroots messaging and tireless lobbying efforts, MDRTL moved the needle towards the realization of a pro-life Maryland.
On March 11th, in a stunning turn of events, SB664 Declaration of Rights – Right to Privacy was withdrawn by its sponsor Senator Susan Lee (D) from the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee mere minutes before the hearing was to take place. This was a direct response to a groundswell of opposition spearheaded by MDRTL.
Federal and state courts have consistently held that a constitutional right to “privacy” includes a woman’s right to have an abortion. This privacy amendment therefore would have invalidated all existing health and safety statutes and regulations regarding abortion and bar any future attempts to pass lifesaving legislation such as a partial birth abortion or dismemberment bans.
Even so, it was a challenge to convince some within the pro-life community as well as many pro-life legislators of the dangers of SB664, because it did not mention abortion clearly, or identify it as an amendment on abortion. This was a herculean task requiring extensive communications and outreach.
“The Constitution is silent on the issue of abortion, but clearly affirms the right to life”, said Laura Bogley, Legislative Director of Maryland Right to Life. “This bill asks us to decide which right is fundamental, the right to life or the right to take life. That is the choice voters unwittingly would have been asked to make in November.” Bogley contends that the abortion industry is weaponizing state constitutions against women and children, depriving them of critical health and safety measures for the sake of profits. “The majority of voters, whether “pro-life” or “pro-choice” support some reasonable restrictions on abortion, particularly on late-term abortions when children can feel pain and could survive outside their mothers,” said Bogley. “This bill takes that choice away from the voters by shifting the power to the courts instead of our elected representatives.”
To sound the alarm and develop a strong opposition to SB664, MDRTL held a kick- off event at the State Capitol in February. It was a sea of blue t shirts and standing room only in solidarity for life at Maryland LIFE Day 2020. Also on hand were many other pro-life organizations. Following a luncheon with legislators, advocates were briefed and then met with their representatives by county. With an overwhelming response including over 200 advocates and 70 legislators in attendance, this was a pivotal day which bolstered opposition to the Abortion Amendment as well as Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS).
In the months and weeks leading up to the hearing for SB664, MDRTL held strategic planning calls and meetings with pro-life organizations across the state. Despite a limited budget, nearly 50 witnesses, including many high-level expert witnesses and four constitutional lawyers were identified to form formidable witness panels. In addition, a campaign at the grassroots level to get advocates to the hearings bore fruit. On the day of the hearing for SB664, nearly 150 Marylanders gathered in Annapolis to defend the Maryland Constitution and the human rights it exists to protect. Faced with this remarkably strong opposition, staff representing Senator Susan Lee, a known NARAL partner, and sponsor of the bill, attempted to negotiate with MDRTL Director of Legislation, Laura Bogley in the final minutes before the hearing and ultimately chose to withdraw the bill.
In addition to the defeat of the abortion amendment, MDRTL expects that PAS will be defeated. The so-called “End of Life Option Bill” (SB0701/HB0643) was reintroduced in 2020 for the fifth time in six years. This bill attempts to decriminalize Assisted Suicide and create a legal right for a physician to prescribe lethal drugs to an individual to self-administer for the purpose of bringing about the individual’s unnatural death.
Again, MDRTL worked with a coalition of organizations to develop an impressive list of witness testimonies in opposition to the bill. In addition, advocate messaging to legislators was deployed and targeted lobbying efforts executed. Without enough votes to pass on the floor, democratic leadership opted to have no vote in committee. That said, the Maryland General Assembly ended several weeks early due to COVID-19 concerns and there is a special session scheduled for the last week of May, leaving a very small window for PAS resurrection.
Stated Laura Bogley “This is wonderful news to all of us. All indications are that PAS is not likely to be a priority for special session. Nevertheless, MDRTL would like to encourage advocates to maintain a reasonable effort to oppose the bill until special session has adjourned.”
These victories are a testament to the power of a strong, well-organized pro-life voice. MDRTL plans to continue outreach initiatives which will afford cohesive messaging and grassroots lobbying efforts throughout the state. There is still much work to be done in the years ahead to protect the preborn and most vulnerable. MDRTL will continue to provide strong leadership as we work to protect all innocent life in Maryland.