County Executive Marc Elrich announced Tuesday that he would be allocating $1 million to help nonprofit providers and other organizations to provide abortion and reproductive health services in the county.
Elrich said during a news conference with County Council Member Nancy Navarro and other pro-choice advocates that the money is meant to symbolize that “we are not going to go back to the era of coat hangers” regarding abortion and reproductive health services in the county, state and country.
The money would likely come through a supplemental budget item that the council will vote on approving in the coming weeks.
Navarro and council members unanimously approved a resolution voicing their support for reproductive and abortion services on Tuesday morning. That decision came after a leaked draft opinion shows that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision from 1973 that protects a woman’s right to have an abortion under the U.S. Constitution.
Advocates said during Tuesday’s new conference that the $1 million in county funds would help local providers serve an anticipated increase in demand for abortion and reproductive services from women who may live outside of Maryland. Twenty-six states are likely or certain to ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, according to published reports.
Jeannette Feldner, president of the Montgomery County National Organization for Women, said in an interview that she volunteers at a private clinic in Rockville that provides reproductive services. She says the county money can be used to help train nurse practitioners, physician assistants and others who haven’t been able to provide abortions before. She said she expects that demand will increase as women fly in from states who don’t have access to abortion and reproductive services.
“People coming from other states and then women in our own state are going … to be in competition for time,” Feldner said. “So the more providers we have, the better.”
It may turn out to be a good thing that the Roe v. Wade draft opinion was leaked because it allows providers and advocates time to prepare, she added.
Del. Ariana Kelly (D-Bethesda) has been working on health care issues — including reproductive and abortion services — in Annapolis for years. Kelly said in an interview that the county money will help the local provider network, which is already under considerable pressure.
“We make investments all the time in health care,” Kelly said. “And this investment is an indication that we’re going to treat abortion care like health care.”
Kelly said demand has already caused delays in other parts of the country, where laws have been enacted to restrict abortions. In states next to Texas, wait times have increased to as much as 20 days, she added.
Last year, the Texas state legislature passed legislation that bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, or after an ultrasound detects cardiac activity in an embryo. There are only exceptions for medical emergencies, according to news reports.
In the Midwest, the wait is as long as four to six weeks, Kelly said. Maryland providers haven’t experienced such delays, but could see longer wait times if demand increases, she added. The pressure on providers could be more pronounced near major airports, Kelly said.
State lawmakers passed a law that provides for $3.5 million for provider training annually, but Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has held up that money, leading to Democrats including Kelly to call on him to release it.
That money could train hundreds of providers, Kelly said. She hopes that other states also invest money because Maryland’s providers cannot handle all of the demand for services if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
But the $1 million is a good start, the delegate said.
“It’s very important that Montgomery County is doing this today because we are an overwhelmingly pro-choice jurisdiction,” Kelly said. “And we need to stand up and make this statement.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at email@example.com