As Concerns Around ‘Roe v. Wade’ Grow, Ben Jealous Says He’ll Safeguard Abortion Rights in Maryland

Maryland Democrat Ben Jealous wants to cover abortion as part of his Medicare for All plan and protect the reproductive rights of incarcerated women.

[Photo: Ben Jealous speaking at microphone.]
Ben Jealous already scored an upset when he won the Democratic primary over establishment candidate Rushern Baker by ten points this summer. Alex Wong/Getty Images

You won’t find reproductive health explicitly discussed in Maryland Democrat Ben Jealous’ Medicare for All plan, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be covered if he wins November’s gubernatorial contest against Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and implements the policy.

“Reproductive health care would be treated like any other health care under the plan,” Jealous told Rewire.News in an interview, confirming that these services would include abortion. “Because there are no specific limitations contemplated, there’s no mention of it. Just like there’s no mention of many other types of health care under the plan that would be covered.”

Jealous’ Medicare for All plan is a key element of the progressive Democrat’s platform. It would, according to an outline released by the campaign, help provide health insurance for the more than 350,000 people in the state who lack coverage and eliminate out-of-pocket health costs for Maryland residents.

Both health insurance access and abortion care have become increasingly fraught issues as the 2018 midterm elections near. Though the Maryland General Assembly is dominated by Democrats who defeated all anti-choice bills introduced in its last legislative session, the Republican governor isn’t an advocate for abortion. It was a key issue during Hogan’s 2014 race, when Democratic U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown sought to frame Hogan as a threat to reproductive rights, citing the Republican’s record.

As the Baltimore Sun reported at the time, Brown released ads “based on Hogan comments from 1980 and 1981 in which he supported a ban on abortions at a Prince George’s County hospital except to save the life of the mother, as well as a ‘human life amendment’ that would have barred abortions while possibly outlawing some forms of birth control. By 1992, Hogan had modified those positions and said abortion should remain legal.” After Brown highlighted Hogan’s record on the topic, the Republican vowed that he would not act to restrict women’s reproductive health if elected.

Now, as Hogan faces a nationally watched battle for re-election, abortion has once again been an issue on which the Republican governor faces criticism. When Trump nominated Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court this summer in what many advocates fear could be a death blow to Roe v. Wade, Jealous criticized Hogan for not affirming that he would move to protect abortion in Maryland by enshrining the right into the state constitution.

In response, Hogan’s office pointed to the governor’s earlier promise not to enact restrictions on reproductive rights. “The governor’s record is clear, four years ago he pledged that he would never alter Maryland’s reproductive health laws and he hasn’t,” Hogan spokesperson Scott Sloofman told the Baltimore Sun in July. “Maryland state law protects a woman’s right to choose, and that will never change under Larry Hogan regardless of any Supreme Court decision.” A Hogan spokesperson later said that the Republican governor would support a ballot initiative to let voters decide on whether to codify abortion rights in the state.

Diana Philip, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland—whose PAC has endorsed Jealous—suggested to Rewire.News that Hogan’s position on reproductive rights has dual connotations. “I think that Gov. Hogan is in a position with his party that he can say he is not going to restrict abortion rights, but it also means that he is not going to make any moves or support efforts to advance abortion rights,” she said.

Philip pointed to two laws Hogan declined to sign during his tenure as governor. In 2017, he declined to sign a measure to reimburse Planned Parenthood for Medicaid funding should congressional GOP’s attacks on the provider prove successful. But Maryland law allows bills neither signed nor vetoed by the governor to go into effect, so it was enacted without his action.

Then earlier this year, after the state’s General Assembly passed a series of bills addressing the reproductive health care of incarcerated women, Hogan signed a measure mandating that a sufficient supply of free menstrual hygiene products be provided in prison, but did not act on a separate measure that would, as Rewire.News reported at the time, require “every correctional facility in the state to have a robust policy in place for the medical care of pregnant inmates, including prenatal testing, labor and delivery, abortion care, postpartum care, access to child placement services, and counseling.”

That measure went into effect without Hogan’s signature on October 1. Hogan’s campaign did not respond by publication time to a question from Rewire.News about why he did not approve the measure.

Philip said Hogan’s decision not to sign those bills “indicates to us that he is in a political position in which … the administration is not able to address the real needs that patients have in access to abortion care and eliminating the barriers that do exist in our state.”

Hogan has, however, approved legislation requiring state health insurance plans to cover more expansive contraceptive options.

Jealous, meanwhile, has pledged to take a more proactive approach to reproductive health and rights. Reproductive health services are explicitly mentioned in Jealous’ criminal justice reform plan, which vows to provide people in prison or jail with “full access to adequate and humane reproductive health services.”

“[Incarcerated] women should have convenient, adequate, and free or low-cost access to the full range of needed reproductive health services, including menstrual hygiene products, contraceptive care, and access to abortion, and community-based or other postpartum services that eliminate the trauma of postpartum separation,” the plan explains.

“We have to create a criminal justice system that returns people to society more whole, more healed, better able to reintegrate and be a productive member of society,” Jealous told Rewire.News. “And [there are] a number of indignities that happen to women behind bars related to their reproductive health that have profound effects on their emotional well-being both in prison and when they get home.”

Jealous noted that he had “heard reports from women inmates over the years that included them being denied sanitary napkins” and that “the ways in which women inmates are abused are manifold and some of them are specific to them being women.”

Addressing these concerns came naturally, Jealous suggested, noting his professional background having “worked in the criminal justice reform community since I was 18 years old.” Jealous previously served as the president of the NAACP and as a visiting professor at Princeton. “I knew that no criminal justice plan would be complete if we didn’t speak to specific issues experienced by women behind bars, including their need for reproductive health care,” he said.

Jealous also plans to safeguard abortion rights in the state constitution, as he urged Hogan to do.

Jealous says his views on reproductive rights have been influenced by his family’s experience, including his grandmother’s time at Planned Parenthood in Baltimore during the 1940s. “When you grow up with a grandmother who worked for Planned Parenthood when she was young, and parents who are both feminist activists, it has a real impact on how you see the world,” he said.

“My grandmother’s story is where my life-long support for a woman’s right to choose and total access to reproductive healthcare originates,” Jealous further explained in a post on his campaign site. “But it doesn’t stop there. I grew up knowing my mother had had an illegal abortion in the 1960s. I grew up knowing that it was luck that kept her alive, luck that her doctor knew what he was doing and that she didn’t develop any life-threatening complications. Luck that I was even alive to have her tell me this story.”

“Women who need abortions, get abortions. If we make them affordable, safe, and legal, we protect women,” Jealous continued.

But to implement his progressive platform, Jealous first needs to win. It could be a tall order given Hogan’s high approval ratings, but Jealous already scored an upset when he won the Democratic primary over establishment candidate Rushern Baker by ten points this summer. Speaking to voters in the state earlier this year, Jealous said that he was “not going to win [this election] by tacking towards the middle,” according to the Atlantic.

“Republicans win when Democrats don’t show up,” in Maryland, Jealous told Rewire.News. “The only way to win this election is to run right towards the people of the state, to give voice to their pain and put real solutions on the table that are capable of solving the problems all of our families face. Whether that’s surging health-care costs … public universities [becoming] too expensive, or an economy that’s stuck.”