For better or worse, everything changed for Planned Parenthood of Maryland after Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
In Texas, a new abortion law was met with filibusters, protests, and widespread outrage; Ohio seems to be following in that state’s footsteps. Many of these new laws are touted as a way to protect women by making sure abortions are “safe,” and that doctors conducting them have proper medical oversight; detractors say that the bills are just a sneaky way to close clinics. (For example, the Texas law that passed in special session this week would effectively close all but five of the state’s abortion clinics; the remaining ones would have to spend millions of dollars to become legal again.) But, as a lengthy article in today’s New York Times points out, Maryland seems to have found a way to please both sides of the debate — not an easy thing to do. So, hey, Texas — why don’t you start taking notes?
Here at Baltimore Fishbowl, we’ve given a lot of attention to (former) Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s activism on behalf of gay rights and marriage equality. But there’s another Raven with strong political beliefs — so strong, in fact, that he sat out the team’s White House visit earlier this week in protest.
Earlier this year, several Johns Hopkins students applied for Student Government Association (SGA) recognition and funding for a Voice for Life group, which would be a “strong pro-life” group aiming “to defend the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being from conception until natural death, and especially to be a voice for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society threatened by abortion, euthanasia and the destruction of human embryos for research.” But on March 12, the SGA rejected the group’s appeal, on the grounds that some of its proposed activities (“sidewalk counseling” outside an abortion clinic on Calvert Street) were in violation of the university’s harassment policies. That’s when everyone started to get really upset.
With the fight for the Republican nomination in full swing, abortion is in the news once again. And that’s only going to be more true as Maryland watches the trial of two out-of-state doctors who were indicted on murder charges last month stemming from a 2010 abortion.
Thirty-eight states have a law on the books allowing for murder charges against someone who kills a viable fetus. Til now, that law has only been used against defendants who were charged with assaulting or killing a pregnant woman. The facts in this case are quite different, though disturbing in their own way: Dr. Steven Brigham (of New Jersey) and Dr. Nicola Riley (of Utah) botched an abortion on a woman who was 21 weeks pregnant, rupturing her uterus and injuring her bowels. When authorities searched the clinic, they found a freezer with 35 late-term fetuses inside. Brigham’s methods sound sleazy — according to the Guardian, for women seeking abortions after the first trimester, Brigham would begin abortion procedures in New Jersey, then have his patients drive themselves to Maryland to finish.
But there are larger questions at play here. According to Maryland law, anyone “intend[ing] to cause the death of the viable fetus” can be charged with murder; the law also states that it’s not intended to infringe on a woman’s right to an abortion. (Late-term abortions are legal in Maryland; the pro-choice organization NARAL gives the state an “A” for its laws regarding reproductive rights.) The charges against Brigham may lead to a court battle over whether he aborted “viable” fetuses. “This is probably the first case that Maryland has ever seen with this factual scenario using this statute. It’s a unique situation,” said Cecil County State’s Attorney Ellis Rollins. Stay tuned for updates.