Saturday, December 10

Opinion | In Maryland, Gov. Hogan plays politics with abortion access

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During his more than seven years in office, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has deployed a deft hand in balancing his conservative instincts as a Republican executive in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. But by withholding $3.5 million in legislatively approved funds intended to train medical professionals to provide safe abortions, Mr. Hogan has betrayed the wishes of many Marylanders on grounds that appear disingenuous.

The governor’s move comes as he weighs a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in primaries whose voters are much more likely to oppose abortion rights than most Marylanders. In that context, his action to block a modest funding program to expand access to safe abortions might look like smart politics. But it’s not straight-dealing for the people who elected him to the office he holds.

Mr. Hogan, a Catholic, opposes abortion, a position he has acknowledged forthrightly. However, as a candidate for governor he pledged to respect the right of those pregnant to seek the procedure, which he termed “settled law.” That stance was intended to soothe abortion rights advocates’ fears among swing voters, as well as crossover Democrats, that he would try to restrict access. In crafting it, Mr. Hogan certainly knew that polls show an overwhelming majority of Marylanders, including Republicans, support abortion access under at least some circumstances.

Mr. Hogan defends his move with the use of clever verbal jujitsu. He says he promised not to change the state’s abortion laws, on the books for three decades, and says that position is consistent with blocking easier access by training more providers. But few Marylanders would have guessed Mr. Hogan’s position, crafted as an assurance he would not narrow abortion access, would be used as justification for opposing broader access. Yet that is what the governor has done.

In fact, Mr. Hogan’s intervention will have a short shelf life. The new law, enacted by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in Annapolis, mandates state funding starting next year, after he leaves office, to provide abortion training for nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants. The funding at issue now would have gotten the program started this summer, with the governor’s approval.

The law is not radical. Nearly one-third of states allow nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants to provide abortions, something Mr. Hogan ignored in insisting that only licensed physicians should be qualified to do so. A major six-year study led by the University of California at San Francisco showed that first-trimester abortions were just as safe when performed by the trained medical professionals specified in Maryland’s legislation as by doctors.

At least half the states are likely to restrict abortion access if given the green light by the Supreme Court, as expected. In nearby ones, such as West Virginia, those who want to terminate unwanted pregnancies might seek to do so in Maryland. They should have safe and ready means to do so.

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