Maryland Proves it is Dedicated to Supporting Women’s Reproductive Decision-Making

Last year, Maryland enacted one of the most comprehensive birth control coverage bills in the country.  But the state legislature didn’t rest on its laurels in 2017.  In just a short 90-day session, the General Assembly passed three more laws that respect each woman’s decision about whether and when to have children, and supports her if she does decide to have a child.

  1. Maryland expanded access to birth control by passing a bill that allows pharmacists to dispense birth control pills without requiring a woman to get a prescription beforehand.  Many modern birth control methods are safe enough that a pharmacist can prescribe them directly, allowing a woman to receive the birth control she wants without a trip to both the doctor and the pharmacy.  For many women, this can mean the difference between getting the birth control she needs or having to do without.  Women with inflexible work schedules or schedules that can change at the last minute, who don’t have paid leave, who are in school, and/or have caregiving responsibilities may have a hard time scheduling a doctors’ appointment in advance. By removing one of the barriers to birth control access, this law supports not only the reproductive health and decision-making of Maryland’s women, but also their long-term economic security.
  2. Maryland passed a bill to support pregnant and parenting students.  The law requires school districts to develop attendance policies to ensure that pregnant and parenting students will not be unfairly penalized when they have to miss school to care for their children or because of their pregnancy.  Punitive attendance policies can push many pregnant and parenting students out of school. But under Maryland’s new law, school district policies must make clear that all absences related to pregnancy and child birth will be excused. In addition, the schools must allow student parents to miss ten days of school after the birth of a child, if their child is sick or has a doctor’s appointment, and for family legal appointments and proceedings.  Importantly, students must be allowed to make up any work they missed during an excused absence. This law goes beyond federal requirements to ensure Maryland schools have robust excused absences policies that meet the needs of pregnant and parenting students.  As our recent report, Stopping School Pushout for Girls Who Are Pregnant or Parenting found, student parents need flexibility from schools so that that they can remain in and succeed in school while also caring for a child.   When states and schools implement policies that support a student’s decision to have a child instead of judging them, they can capitalize on the powerful motivation many pregnant and parenting students feel to succeed in school and secure bright futures for themselves and their children.
  3. Maryland became the first state in the country to guarantee the state would reimburse Planned Parenthood for the non-abortion health services its clinics provide – including STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings, HIV testing, and birth control – if the federal government withholds reimbursement for these services.  Passage of the bill – prompted by relentless attacks and threats to Planned Parenthood by the Trump Administration and some Members of Congress – is a victory for the 25,000 people who rely on Planned Parenthood’s nine Maryland health clinics for their needed health care.  While Maryland’s law sets an example for other states looking to protect health care access, state laws cannot replace a nationwide policy ensuring federal reimbursement to Planned Parenthood.  Some states do not have the funds to fill the gap that would be left by federal defunding and others are actively attempting to withhold state funds from Planned Parenthood – meaning the health care access of people living in these states may be seriously threatened without federal reimbursement to Planned Parenthood health centers.

These laws respect  women’s reproductive  decision-making:  they expand access to birth control, helping women carry out their decision of if and when to become pregnant; they support women who have decided to have a child continue their education; and ensure women have access to reproductive health care providers in their communities.  These laws prove that the Maryland General Assembly is dedicated to supporting women in the state – and set a great example for other states looking to do the same.