Hogan Backs Codifying Roe, Tacking Left on Abortion Ahead of a Tough Race

Larry Hogan, the former two-term Republican governor of Maryland who this week won his party’s nomination for the state’s open Senate seat, said in an interview on Thursday that he supports legislation to codify abortion rights in federal law, describing himself as “pro-choice” in a remarkable pivot as he heads into a highly competitive race.

Mr. Hogan, who just two years ago vetoed a state law to expand abortion access in Maryland, also said he would vote to enshrine abortion rights in the state’s Constitution, a measure that will be on the ballot in November. He had previously declined to take a clear stance on either issue.

“I support restoring Roe as the law of the land,” Mr. Hogan said, referring to the now-overturned 1973 decision establishing abortion rights. “I’ll continue to protect the rights of women to make their own reproductive choices just like I did as governor for eight years. I think Marylanders know and trust that when I give them my word, I’m going to keep it, and I’ve protected these rights before. And I’ll do it again in the Senate by supporting a bipartisan compromise to restore Roe as the law of the land.”

Asked whether he viewed himself as “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” Mr. Hogan said, “Given the definition of what I’m supporting — women’s rights to make their own decision — I would say that’s pro-choice.”

It was a major tack to the left for Mr. Hogan, a Catholic who has long said his personal beliefs about abortion would not interfere with his stance that the issue is settled in state law. The move came as the former governor is heading into a challenging general election campaign in the solidly Democratic state of Maryland whose outcome could determine which party controls the Senate.

Democrats have made it clear that they plan to spotlight their party’s backing for abortion rights — and Republicans’ record of opposing access — as a central plank of their campaign for control of Congress, and they have already begun hammering Mr. Hogan on the issue. In 2022, he vetoed a bill to broaden abortion access in Maryland by allowing medical professionals other than physicians to perform them, which was enacted when the legislature overrode him.

“Larry Hogan has said he’s a ‘lifelong Republican’ and if he’s elected, he’ll give Republicans the majority they need to pass a national abortion ban,” Angela Alsobrooks, the Prince George’s County executive who won the Democratic nomination for the Senate race, warned in her victory speech on Tuesday. “He will not oppose anti-choice judges, including nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court — even in the wake of the reversal of Roe v. Wade.”

Ms. Alsobrooks, who is trying to become the first Black woman elected to the Senate in Maryland, also criticized Mr. Hogan for saying in a television interview in February that abortion is “an emotional issue” for women.

On Thursday, Mr. Hogan said that he would not support a national abortion ban, and would not use a judge’s prior rulings or views on abortion as a “litmus test” when deciding whether to confirm nominees made by the winner of the 2024 presidential election, whether that is President Biden or former President Donald J. Trump.

“I’ve never had a litmus test beyond a respect for the law and judicial temperament to make the right decisions, according to the law,” Mr. Hogan said. “I don’t think anybody should be gaming the system or having a litmus test on either side.”

A center-right Republican who has frequently criticized Mr. Trump, Mr. Hogan twice swept to victory in the governor’s race in deep-blue Maryland, winning over double-digit percentages of Democrats and independents. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, personally recruited him to run in a year when Democrats are already toiling to defend seats in conservative-leaning states as they grasp to maintain the majority, which they currently hold by just one seat.

Mr. Hogan has previously tried to distance himself from hard-line conservative positions on abortion. In 2019, he said he believed Roe v. Wade had been correctly decided. In his own primary victory speech on Tuesday night, Mr. Hogan assured female voters: “You have my word: I will continue to protect your right to make your own reproductive health decisions.”

Democrats were immediately skeptical. “If you believe that, I’d be happy to sell you the Key Bridge,” Brian Frosh, the state’s former attorney general, wrote on social media.

Mr. Hogan has ducked direct questions on the issue. Asked by Axios in March whether he would support codifying Roe, Mr. Hogan said only that it was something to consider. “It wasn’t a yes or a no,” he said, before laughing nervously.

Asked on Monday by The New York Times for his position on the matter, Mr. Hogan said, “It’s one of the things I’m sure we’ll be talking about over the next six months.”

Mr. Hogan’s decision to break with his party on abortion, coming less than 48 hours after he and Ms. Alsobrooks claimed their party’s respective nominations, appeared to be a calculated move to the left now that he is through the Republican primary. He would need large numbers of Mr. Biden’s supporters to cross party lines and vote for him to win the general election.

Even with the announcement, he still holds a more conservative position on abortion access than Ms. Alsobrooks, who has said she will cosponsor the Women’s Health Protection Act, a Democratic bill that would outlaw an array of abortion restrictions, on her first day in office.

The legislation would protect abortion access nationwide, going beyond simply codifying the protections in Roe and explicitly prohibiting a long list of abortion restrictions. Among them are some that were enacted by states after the landmark Supreme Court ruling was made that have severely limited access to the procedure.

Mr. Hogan said on Thursday that he did not support that bill because it would expand abortion rights beyond Roe. But he said his objection was more practical than ideological. For any bill to pass the Senate, it would almost certainly need the votes of centrist Republicans like Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the party’s only two supporters of abortion rights in the chamber.

“I’ve always thought compromise is better, and I don’t think either party is going to be able to jam through their extreme positions,” Mr. Hogan said.

Senate Democrats tried and failed to advance their measure in 2022 after the leak of a draft opinion that revealed that the Supreme Court was on the brink of overturning Roe, which it did the next month. The bill failed to draw the 60 votes necessary to move forward.

Instead, Mr. Hogan said, he would work as part of a bipartisan coalition to come up with legislation that would protect the right to abortion before the fetus is viable, the standard that was national law until the Supreme Court overturned Roe. He said he believed a bill proposed by Ms. Collins was a “sensible” starting point for legislative discussions should he win election to the Senate.

That measure would outlaw any restriction that would put an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. It borrows language from the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which affirmed what it called the essential holding in Roe: that states may not prohibit abortions before fetal viability.

But Democrats and abortion rights advocates have dismissed Ms. Collins’s bill as toothless, noting that it lacks clear guidance about what states can and cannot do, and that it would not explicitly rule out abortion bans before a fetus is viable or bar any specific prohibitions on abortion methods.

Mr. Hogan also said he stood by his own veto of the Maryland abortion law, which he said at the time “endangers the health and lives of women.”

“Do we want to roll the clock back on an important medical procedure?” Mr. Hogan said in the interview. “I didn’t think people that weren’t licensed medical professionals should be doing it, and I still feel the same way.”

Jess Bidgood contributed reporting.

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