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Jones Says She'll Likely Push To Protect Abortion Rights

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland's new House speaker said Thursday she will "most likely" push to protect abortion rights in the state's constitution next year, as her predecessor sought to do this year.

House Speaker Adrienne Jones, in an interview 15 days after she won the speakership, said she expects the issue to come back before Maryland lawmakers, especially after Alabama's governor signed the strictest-in-the-nation abortion ban Wednesday.

Jones, who is the first black woman in the state's history to win the powerful speaker's office, noted news reports about the Alabama law when asked whether she would sponsor a constitutional amendment in Maryland.

"I was looking at the coverage, and it was all men in terms of pushing this, and neither one of them has ever given birth to a child or has been in that situation," said Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Her predecessor, Michael Busch, introduced a constitutional amendment this year to protect abortion rights in Maryland's constitution. But Busch, who died last month, did not move forward with the proposal, after Maryland's Senate president said ballot questions should be approved in the year they go before voters. Maryland voters won't go to the polls again until next year.

A constitutional amendment requires a three-fifths vote in the House and Senate to put it on the ballot for voters to decide.

Jones is presiding at a time when there are more women in the General Assembly than ever before. There are 58 women in the House, which has 141 seats. Jones just swore in the most recent female delegate on Thursday, Del. Shaneka Henson, to fill Busch's seat in Anne Arundel County. Like Jones, Henson also made history: she is the first black woman to represent the district. There are 15 women in the Senate, which has 47 seats.

Busch proposed protecting abortion rights in Maryland's constitution in response to the possibility that a conservative Supreme Court could overturn or weaken federal abortion-rights protections.

Maryland passed legislation in 1991 to protect a woman's right to abortion, if the Supreme Court should ever restrict abortions. Voters approved the law in a 1992 referendum with 62 percent of the vote. Although Maryland has that statutory protection, it could be subject to change by state lawmakers.

Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in Maryland, and the General Assembly is heavily Democratic. There are 99 Democrats in the House and 42 Republicans. The Senate is comprised of 32 Democrats and 15 Republicans.

The Maryland General Assembly took a step this year to counter attempts by President Donald Trump's administration to restrict abortion. Maryland became the first state in the nation to pass a bill that would reject federal money for family planning services, if clinics could not make abortion referrals as part of their services. In April, a federal judge in Oregon issued an injunction to block the Trump administration's attempt to implement the new rules.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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