May 15, 2022
Thirty Years of Abortion History in Maryland
In 1992, Maryland voters approved – by a 2-1 margin – a ballot question on abortion in our state. It read:
“Revises Maryland’s abortion law to prohibit state interference with woman’s abortion decision before fetus is viable, or, under certain conditions, at any time and to provide certain exceptions to the requirement that a physician notify an unmarried minor’s parent or guardian prior to minor’s abortion; repeals pre-abortion information requirements about abortion alternatives; repeals some, and clarifies other, provisions related to abortion referral; requires that abortions be performed by licensed physicians; provides good-faith immunity under certain conditions to physicians performing abortions; authorizes State to adopt abortion regulations; repeals certain penalty and disciplinary provisions related to the performance of abortions.”
In almost every way, this ballot question codified Roe v. Wade in our state, the exception being that it specified parental notification requirements, which Roe did not. But, in addition to the fact that attempts to repeal this ballot measure, known as Question 6 have failed, we are one of the few states in the country where third-trimester abortions are legal. And, our legislature in 2022 actually expanded this law to fund training for certain health care professionals, lifting the requirement that only licensed physicians could perform abortions.
The Maryland House passed language for a constitutional amendment here which would have added this right to abortion care to our state constitution. The session ended before the Maryland Senate could take up the amendment. However, the Abortion Care Access Act passed both chambers comfortably, and Gov. Hogan’s veto of the measure was easily overridden.
So, no problem – right?
Actually, it would be incredibly important not to rest comfortably here with all this legislative support for abortion care access in our state.
The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) approved in their preliminary internal process following their hearing of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization the overturning of Roe v. Wade. A draft opinion written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito was recently leaked to the press confirming their intent to do this. The news sent shock waves throughout the country, although quite a few legal observers saw this coming with the conservative Supreme Court appointments by Trump rammed through the U.S. Senate. But usually, the elimination of a 50-year legal precedent of a right affecting half the U.S. population follows a more gradual process.
Not so, with this conservative Supreme Court majority. The Mississippi law at issue in Dobbs established a fetal viability standard of 15 weeks, which is medically impossible. Just upholding this law, and allowing a Texas law establishing viability of 8 weeks to stand would have most certainly started many states down that path. Almost weekly we read of other states that are passing similar restrictions.
Overturning Roe allows states to simply outlaw all abortions (the Dobbs law that the Court upholds in their decision allows no exception for rape or incest). Period. Thirteen states have what are known as “trigger laws” which provide that immediately upon the Court’s overturning of Roe abortion will be illegal in their state, and at least 10 states are currently in the process of passing similar laws.
If the U.S. House and Senate gain Republican majorities in 2022, both will most certainly pass laws outlawing abortion nationwide. This law would most certainly be vetoed by President Biden. But in two years, with the White House again up for grabs, if the Republicans can take over the Executive Branch of our government and repeat their Legislative Branch wins, Maryland’s law will disappear along with any other state laws that allow for abortion anywhere in the U.S. If you think this can’t happen, please don’t be too sure.
We are in a period in our history where representation of the population in the U.S. Senate, as well as the U.S. House, is wildly out of proportion. For example, California has a population of 39 million people. Wyoming has a population of 500,000. Both states each have two U.S. Senators. But consider this: California’s population totals the same number as we find in 22 other states. So California’s 39 million people have two senators and 22 other states in the country with a total population of 38 million have a total of 44 senators.
Additionally, four of the members of the Supreme Court were appointed by the Electoral College. That is to say, neither George Bush nor Donald Trump became president by winning the popular vote but were in fact were elected by the Electoral College. During Bush’s second term he elevated John Roberts to be Chief Justice, and appointed Samuel Alito. Trump only served one term, but appointed Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett who were confirmed by the Senate.
Representatives of the Electoral College reflect the same imbalance as in the above example of California whose populations voted for Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, but were outvoted in the Electoral College by states whose populations elected George Bush and Donald Trump.
So, it won’t matter if Maryland voters codified Roe v. Wade and support a woman’s right to her choice of abortion care. There are clearly many things wrong with our so-called “representative democracy” at this point, but all we – and those who share our views and values – can do is vote.
The 2022 Election Cycle
Many political pundits and pollsters claim that a Republican take-over of Capitol Hill is likely. It’s also widely believed that the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe will not actually change very many voters from Republicans to Democrats. But what it will do, and what we have to do everything we can to bring about, is increase turnout. Given the Republicans’ relentless attack on voting rights across the country, that will not be even a little bit easy.
Stay tuned as if the reproductive health care of every person in the U.S. depended on it! It will!
May 3, 2022
The news last night, as Rachel Maddow so aptly described it, left us “gobsmacked.”.
Since it has never happened before (a leak from the SCOTUS of an entire draft of an opinion), we can probably assume that it was not by accident that the initial draft of the Mississippi abortion decision that will be handed down in June was leaked to a news organization. It signals that a majority of the justices have voted to completely overturn Roe v. Wade.
When a case is heard before the Court, an initial vote is taken by the justices who have heard the oral arguments, and the Chief Justice assigns a member of the court to draft an opinion reflecting the views of the majority of those justices. While there is admittedly some room for small changes, it is quite likely — especially given the conservative justices who now hold a majority on the Court – that the basic move to completely overturn Roe will hold.
Justice Alito wrote the document that was leaked, but words like “abortionist,” a favorite term of Justice Clarence Thomas, and phrases used by Justice Barrett in her arguments that women can just give birth and put a baby up for adoption are very much a part of the language and reasoning in the opinion. Most observers of the court over our country’s history believed that this kind of outcome was unlikely. The justices are usually much more cognizant of what is actually going on in the country and don’t overturn standing precedent that will alter the lives of over half the population.
Alito also wrote that abortion wasn’t the economic issue it was 29 years ago. Quite to the contrary, 70% of the population has never known an economic climate in which abortion and birth control weren’t legal.
Even more frightening is the fact that, given their willingness to overturn Roe, we cannot ignore that many decisions like gay marriage, and even birth control, are now in their crosshairs. In fact, since every prospective Republican-appointed justice in his or her confirmation hearing, has essentially lied about their attitude toward established precedent, we can be justifiably afraid. Almost every long-standing opinion of the Court opposed by conservatives could be up for review.
There is no shortage of news and opinion that has already been posted and will continue to come out about this, and we encourage everyone to become as familiar as they can with what is at stake. There are 13 states that have what are called “trigger laws” that simply say that the instant a decision overturning Roe is handed down by the Court, abortion will be illegal in that state. However at least 10 more are currently considering such laws – the number of states with “trigger laws” rises weekly.
While Maryland has codified Roe v. Wade in our state law and even strengthened our laws during the last legislative session, we cannot be numb to the conditions faced by women nationwide. And as safe as our codification of Roe may make us feel here, we need to be very aware that all it will take for that to change for us would be for the Republicans to win control of the House and the Senate in the fall elections and the White House in 2024. There’s no question that the instant that happens, abortion would no longer be legal anywhere in the U.S.
As Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) said on Maddow’s program last night, we have to turn out a vote like never before in the fall elections.
Please make a commitment now to help in any way you can with that effort.
April 25, 2022
(Note: This article was written before the leak of the SCOTUS’s draft opinion overturning Roe. There will be much more on our site as information and schedules of events become available. However this article does contain some factual information about the Roe decision which our members and friends may find useful in understanding the situation we face.)
The Ultimate End of Roe v. Wade Comes in June
It’s highly unlikely that Roe v. Wade in any form that we know today will survive the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which is expected from the Supreme Court at the end of June. This past January 22nd (2022) was Roe’s 49th and, in all likelihood, its last anniversary.
The headlines will probably not read “Roe v. Wade Struck Down by the Supreme Court,” even though we expect that to be the reality. All that must happen is that Roe’s trimester “viability” standard will be so compromised by the Court’s conservative majority in Dobbs that states will be able to put virtually unlimited restrictions on abortion procedures.
Pro-choice groups are seriously concerned that as the end of June comes into sight the media will announce that Roe has survived because abortion would remain legal in those states that allow it, misleading the public. However, women in almost half the country will not be able to access abortion as medical care in their state due to state-imposed restrictions and therefore abortion may as well be illegal for them. The number of states passing laws based on the Mississippi and Texas statutes grows almost weekly.
The Basis for the Roe v. Wade Decision
The two major legal underpinnings of the right to abortion are viability (from Roe) and undue burden (from Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992, which modified Roe). Examples of challenges to Roe involving undue burden would be the various waiting periods between an initial visit and the procedure, or getting the permissions of husbands or boyfriends. Viability refers to the ability of a fetus to live outside a woman’s uterus. Since viability is the standard under attack in Dobbs v. Jackson, more detail is important.
Fetal viability has changed since 1973 but not considerably. When the Roe opinion was written fetal viability was approximately 28 weeks, Today it is considered to be about 23-24 weeks, although a fetus born at 21 weeks did survive (born July 2020 at 21 weeks and 1 day). Between 24 weeks and 21 weeks gestation, survival is less than 50%.
So several things are evident. With the law in Mississippi defining viability at 15 weeks, and the law in Texas defining viability at 6 weeks of pregnancy, it’s clear to most of us that none of these laws are based on medical evidence concerning fetal viability, and are instead about simply making it impossible for women to get abortion care.
Arguments For This Change In The Definition of Viability
So do attorneys for these nonsensical viability definitions get up in court and claim that they are defending viable life at 6 weeks – long before the huge majority of women even realize they are pregnant? Actually, they do.
They are citing something in fetal development that really does happen but has nothing to do with viability. They have called this developmental stage a “standard” called “fetal heartbeat.” Advances in medicine and ultrasound technologies enable doctors to detect a “flutter” coming from the cells in the area of a fetus where a heart will eventually develop. The cells in this area are beginning to send out electrical signals. This in no way indicates viability or a formed heart that is functioning in any way. It is far from a “heartbeat.”
The Bush/Trump Supreme Court
If one wonders what has prompted this sudden rush by state legislatures to use these extreme standards of what they are calling fetal viability, the answer is simple: Because they now can.
The Supreme Court currently exercises an outsized dominance over our nation’s laws. It’s not just that conservatives control the court with a 6-3 majority. It’s also the case that 3 of the conservatives – Associate Justices Thomas and Alito, and Chief Justice Roberts – were appointed by George W. Bush. The remaining three conservatives were appointed by Donald Trump – Associate Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. Besides being Republican conservatives, there’s something else both Bush and Trump have in common. Both became president through a majority of votes in the Electoral College, not because they were supported by the majority of actual voters.
Despite the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and control of the Executive Branch of our government, the Supreme Court with its powerful conservative majority could (and well may) send women and their families back 50 years to the days before Roe v. Wade.
If the Court does what we expect, we need to protest their decision when it comes down just as though it clearly strikes down Roe v. Wade, because for millions of women in our country, that will be the result.
Please stay tuned — and angry.
By Barbara Hays
Sources for this posting include articles published in the New York Times (by Adam Liptak, Nov. 28, 2021), the Washington Post (by Ariana Eunjung Cha and Rachel Roubein, Dec 21, 2021) and a post on NPR’s website by Nina Totenberg on Sept 1, 2021.
Also, many thanks to my dear friend, Kim Gandy, a past president of NOW who has spent her life defending women’s rights. Her help made this explanation infinitely better than my first draft.
April 8, 2022
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th. Relations between Russia and the United States have deteriorated dramatically since then, with the US aligned with Ukraine and our allies in NATO/Europe. Additionally, this action by Russia is overtly a war of aggression, not provocated in any way by Ukraine. It is in this context that something really unconscionable is happening to one of America’s best female athletes and the silence is – oddly — deafening.
Imagine, for a moment, that – sometime in February – any one of the top Men’s NBA stars had been detained in Russia. We have no doubt that Nikola Jokic, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James’ names would have been somewhere in the headline of every major newspaper in the United States, almost every day since they had been arrested. Imagine, additionally, that the charges being brought against any one of these starts were that they had drugs in their luggage which for any of them would have been really not believable.
Sometime in February – the exact date is not actually known – WNBA’s top star, Brittany Griner, was arrested in Russia and charged by their law enforcement with smuggling drugs – specifically vape cartridges containing hashish oil – into Russia.
There are a lot of questions, and few clear answers.
These are charges brought by Russia and it is unclear what proof has been provided. It should immediately be noted that Griner plays on a women’s basketball team in Russia during the WNBA off-season and has done this for a number of years. One could easily wonder, if she had done this for years, wouldn’t she have been very familiar with Russia’s very strict drug laws, and for her to have taken such a chance – especially during February when the crisis between Russia and Ukraine had been building dramatically. Conviction in a Russian court on these charges could put Griner in prison there for up to 10 years. So for starters, the charges are very suspect.
It should be noted that none of this has phased racist and sexist American sports fans in ridiculing her, assuming her guilt for smuggling drugs with all the usual stereotypical slurs expected when whites are judging blacks.
Why was Griner in Russia in the first place? To women’s rights advocates here, the reason is nothing less than infuriating. The US public undervalues professional women’s basketball. Per the WNBA’s current collective bargaining agreement, the average cash compensation for women players is around $130,000. Top players can earn in excess of $500,000. But by comparison, the amount even rookie men’s NBA players in the US can make is easily in the multi-million dollar range. Griner, and many other women’s basketball stars, can earn $1 million playing on a Russian team during the off-season for the WNBA. That disparity between what men and women earn in professional sports speaks to an attitude here that sports are for men.
In a recent article in The Atlantic, Jemele Hill wrote, “Russia wouldn’t be a tantalizing option for America’s best women’s basketball players if they could earn more at home and be treated with the same professional respect as NBA players. It is damning that teams in oppressive countries such as Russia and China place a higher value on players such as Griner than the teams in her own country do.”
Brittany Griner is a lesbian, and a very vocal advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights. Here in the U.S., she plays for the Phoenix Mercury WNBA team. She’s known for being very supportive of a youth center in Phoenix and has been the grand marshal of Phoenix’s Pride Parade. This also puts her on yet another list with the Russian government, which discriminates against LGBTQIA+ people in numerous ways, restricting public advocacy, and legislatively by passing what has been tagged as “gay propaganda” laws targeting minors.
Several people who have wanted to advocate more openly for Griner’s release have said privately that they have been discouraged from doing so, to attempt to keep her from becoming a political pawn in the rapidly escalating international tensions surrounding the Russian-Ukraine war. However, at the same time, we all know where a lack of focus on this case can also lead us.
U.S. officials have recently visited Griner in her Russian prison and reported that she is in good spirits and in a facility where she receives decent treatment. But her hearing or trial on these charges has been pushed to May 19, and the WNBA season here starts on May 6. This means Griner is out for the season, at best.
It’s important for women’s rights advocates and fans of women’s sports to follow this case closely and to speak out when they can for our government to continue to pressure the Russians for her release, sooner rather than later. It doesn’t seem very likely, however, that this can happen without a lot of diplomacy and work internationally to bring her home.
Please watch for any opportunities to register your support of increasing pressure on the Russians to release Brittany Griner.
February 28, 2022
(The following information is excerpted from Jan’s Board Report in February. Many thanks to her for sharing it with us.)
To: National Board Members
From: Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director
Date: February 28, 2022
The Equal Rights Amendment is NOW in Effect!
Are you surprised? It turns out that the 1972 resolution proposing that the Equal Rights Amendment be considered and passed by 38 ratifying also stipulated that the amendment would become effective two-years after the date of ratification by the final needed state. Virginia – that final state — ratified the ERA on January 27th, 2020. However, there is a court case still pending that may determine whether the ERA can become part of the Constitution.
Advocates, organized by the ERA Coalition, held a zoom press conference on that date this year, with an impressive array of speakers from a half dozen women’s organizations, plus key lawmakers sponsoring legislation to remove the deadline from the 1972 ERA bill. Among the latter group were Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Sponsor of the deadline removal bill in the Senate (S.J. Res. 1), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), House sponsor of the deadline removal bill (H.J. Res. 17 which passed the House in March 2021, 222- 204) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), longtime leader in the effort to pass the ERA. Also, former Virginia Solicitor General Michelle Kallen who wrote the lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Virginia, Illinois and Nevada. Linda Coberly, chair of the ERA Coalition Task Force, gave a concise summary of where things stand with the three A.G.’s lawsuit, currently before the D.C. District appellate court. Former NOW president Ellie Smeal, currently president and CEO of the Feminist Majority Foundation, and NOW president Christian F. Nunes also spoke.
The press conference was followed by a breezy rally near the White House, with additional speakers, and concluded with a march to the Department of Justice to deliver more than 60,000 signatures on a petition urging the Department of Justice to take action to support the Equal Rights Amendment’s inclusion in the U.S. Constitution.
(From the ERA Coalition Report/Update March 5, 2022)
The Equal Rights Amendment is valid as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The Equal Rights Amendment has satisfied all requirements set forth in Article V of the Constitution to be added as the 28th Amendment. The ERA was passed through Congress with well over the required 2/3 majority vote and sent to the states in 1972. On January 27, 2020, Virginia voted to become the 38th and last needed- state to meet the 3/4 state ratification requirement. According to Section 3 of the Equal Rights Amendment, which stipulates a two-year waiting period from the date of ratification, the ERA is now officially in effect.
Enforcing the Equal Rights Amendment
The 28th Amendment will immediately be used to:
Continued Clarification Efforts
Although the efforts to clarify the 28th Amendment’s validity are not necessary, they are being pursued to remove any ambiguity as to the status of its ratification.
Concerns about the Amendment’s ratification are being raised because of the 7-year time limit in its preamble and the fact that 5 states have attempted to rescind their prior ratifications. As a result of an OLC memo issued under the previous Trump Administration in anticipation of Virginia’s ratification, the Amendment has yet to be published by the Archivist.
Advocates will continue to pursue the following campaigns:
ERA Coalition – 1 Thomas Circle, Suite 700 ● Washington, DC 20005 ● 202-459-9939 ● www.eracoalition.org
The Equal Rights Amendment deadline removal bill, H.J. Res. 17, passed the House on March 17 (222-204) and has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar. It could be voted on at any time. However, there is the problem with the filibuster and steadfast Republican opposition. While it is likely that all 50 Democrats would vote for the legislation, plus the two Republicans that have signed on (Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Maine Sen. Susan Collins), we would still need eight more Republicans to overcome a threatened filibuster.
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin (D), who is the lead sponsor of S. J. Res. 1, identical to the House version, has advised grassroots activists that if they recruit any co-sponsors, they must match a Democrat with a Republican co-sponsor. Currently, there are only four co-sponsors, in addition to Murkowski and Collins, Maine Independent Sen. Angus King, and Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. Bob Casey. Without the 60 votes necessary, the ERA deadline removal legislation will languish and perhaps die at the end of the 117th Congress – as happened in the 116th Congress. Should a miracle occur and the filibuster disappears, the bill could be passed very quickly with all Democrats and the two Republicans voting.
On the more hopeful news front, a letter signed by member organizations of the ERA Coalition, Including NOW, asks Attorney General Merrick Garland to withdraw a memorandum that was issued by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Department of Justice during the Trump administration. The memorandum concluded that the deadline had expired and that the Equal Rights Amendment was no longer pending before the states. Withdrawal of that memorandum could help pave the way for the eventual enshrinement of the ERA in the U.S. Constitution. The letter to Attorney General Garland is attached here, and National NOW is already a signer.
Thanks to Jan Erickson, Director of Government Relations, National NOW.
January 29, 2022
January 28, 2022
The Montgomery County Commission for Women’s 42nd Annual Virtual Women’s Legislative Briefing will be held via Zoom on Sunday, January 30th, 2022 from 12:30 pm – 5:00 pm.
The opening session includes a keynote address by Melanie L. Campbell, President/CEO, The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. There will be two breakout sessions with panels. Breakout Session One is titled “Voting to Protect,” moderated by Sen WIll C. Smith, Jr, Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, and “Voting for Access,” moderated by Jheanelle Wilkins, Delegate, D-20. Breakout Session Two’s panels are “Voting for Your Health,” moderated by Tammy Bresnahan, Associate State Director Advocacy, AARP, and “Educating the Vote,” moderated by Janelle Wong, Professor, University of Maryland.
Registration is open on the Montgomery County Commission for Women’s website.
Maryland NOW is a co-sponsor of this event.
August 17, 2021
The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is beyond heartbreaking. Many groups – both internationally and in the U.S. – have been working over the past 20 years to try to help the women of Afghanistan find their voices and better the lives of their sisters. Now it appears that not only is all their work in jeopardy but the lives of many women are in danger because they are now targets of their new government – the Taliban.
An important organization well-known to NOW’s Global Feminist Committee is Women for Afghan Women (WAW). Women for Afghan Women (WAW) is a grassroots civil society organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of disenfranchised Afghan women and girls in Afghanistan and New York. In particular, WAW works to help Afghan women and girls exercise their rights to pursue their individual potential to self-determination, and to representation in all areas of life—political, social, cultural, and economic. WAW relentlessly advocates for women’s rights and challenges the norms that underpin gender-based violence to influence attitudes and bring about change.
Their website – https://womenforafghanwomen.org/ – has more information about their work and ways to donate money. Please contribute any amount you can.
NOW’s Global Feminist Committee is co-chaired by Jan Stroud, who is also the President of Montana NOW, and Kolieka Seigle, President of California NOW. The above information came to us from them.
Note: the photo on our front page is from the Women for Afghan Women’s website.