Democratic lawmakers in Maryland are uniting behind a package of legislation aimed to strengthen the state’s reproductive rights.

Gov. Wes Moore, Senate President Bill Ferguson, House Speaker Adrienne Jones and other Democrats have focused their efforts around four bills this legislative session.

“We’re going to make sure that Maryland is a safe haven for abortion rights long after I am governor of this state,” Moore said earlier this month.

Here’s a closer look at the four bills included in the package.

Enshrining abortion access in the constitution

The Right to Reproductive Freedom Act, which was introduced in last year’s legislative session, would allow voters to decide whether a reproductive rights amendment should be added to Maryland’s constitution.

If the bill passes, the referendum will be on ballots during the 2024 general election. Maryland law already protects the right to an abortion, but a constitutional amendment would assert abortion access as a right and ensure reproductive rights for future generations in Maryland.

Lily Fleischmann, the founder and president of Pro-Choice Terps, thinks Maryland already does a good job of protecting abortion rights and is pleased with the additional steps lawmakers are taking.

“I believe that abortion should be a human right,” the sophomore public policy major said.

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Reproductive health care at Maryland colleges
Another bill would have direct implications for the University of Maryland by requiring the state’s public colleges and universities to develop and implement a reproductive health services plan for students, so students have access to contraception and abortions.

Under the bill, schools are required to develop a plan by Aug. 1, 2024, and to update the plan annually.

Sen. Brian Feldman (D – Montgomery County) , the lead sponsor for the senate version, noted pregnancies are one of the leading causes of college dropouts. His bill tries to solve this problem by requiring schools to provide students with 24-hour access to contraceptives and ensuring students have transportation to reproductive health services off of the campus.

“It’s not just about pregnancy. It’s about sexually transmitted diseases as well,” Feldman said. “Our public institutions should have plans in place.”

This legislation was inspired by research from a student at Bowie State University who found reproductive health services are not widely available on Maryland campuses, said Del. Ariana Kelly, the lead sponsor of the House version.

Kelly, a Democrat representing parts of Montgomery County, explained legislators communicated with universities and students to craft a plan that worked for both students and the universities they attend.

Protecting out-of-state patients

Some nearby states — West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia — have stricter abortion restrictions than Maryland, prompting some residents to travel to Maryland for easier access to safe abortions.

This bill aims to protect these out-of-state patients and the providers who support them from facing penalties. The bill would prohibit judges from requiring people to submit evidence or testimony about abortions provided in Maryland.

“Not every state is as forward-thinking as Maryland,” Fleischmann said.

She also noted Maryland is more southern than many of the other states that have protected abortion, making it a popular destination.

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Ensuring privacy for reproductive health records

The final bill in the package would help protect the privacy of abortion providers and patients. Health care, insurance and medical records are among the information that would be kept private so patients are not targeted by anti-abortion activists and governments where abortion is illegal.

“If you have private medical records related to reproductive health care, you want to keep them private, especially in this world,” Kelly, who helped craft the legislation, said.

Maryland Democrats have been collaborating with other state legislators across the country, Kelly said. For instance, the privacy bill was modeled off of bills already passed in other states, such as California and Illinois.

Republican legislators view the package of abortion bills as unnecessary.

“We are certain that becoming the abortion capital of the United States is not something to aspire to or be proud of,” Maryland Senate Republican leadership said in a statement. “This constitutional amendment is unnecessary and only serves to placate those pushing the national progressive agenda.”

With a new Democratic governor supporting access to reproductive health care, Kelly is cautiously optimistic about the package of bills becoming law.

“In Maryland, we’re leading the way,” she said.