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Hyattsville considers a Bodily Autonomy Act

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Posted on: September 28, 2023

By Adelia McGuire 

Among other issues, the Hyattsville City Council discussed the newly proposed Hyattsville Bodily Autonomy Act at their Sept. 18 meeting.  

Five city councilmembers proposed the The Hyattsville Bodily Autonomy Act as a means to prevent the Hyattsville Police Department (HPD) from invading personal privacy and intervening in matters regarding reproductive health care or gender-affirming care. If passed, the act would allow people 18 and older (or a minor who has been given parental consent) who reside in a state outside of Maryland to receive specific medical attention — such as an abortion or puberty blockers— that is illegal in their state. 

“What this does is instructs our police department to not engage and respond affirmatively to requests from external law enforcement agencies on laws regarding abortions and gender-affirming care,” City Councilmember Sam Denes (Ward 1) said during the meeting. If an individual flees to Maryland from a state with laws prohibiting reproductive and gender affirming care, Maryland police are forbidden to act regardless of direction coming from the exterior state. 

Early in the meeting, several community members provided public comments regarding the proposed act. Some constituents expressed concerns that limiting the freedom of law enforcement could have harmful repercussions. 

“It impacts the way law enforcement can interact with things like rehab, abortion connected with sex trafficking occurring in our region — or if we have different abuses of relationships and power,” said Hyattsville resident Lauren Buschbacher. Other residents voiced similar concerns about reducing the reach of law enforcement in dangerous situations involving either reproductive health care or gender-affirming services.  

Others questioned the rationale behind the statute, noting that they hadn’t heard of city police getting involved in these situations.

Hyattsville Police Chief Jarod Towers reported that, during his tenure, the HPD has not had any reports requiring law enforcement to interfere in matters regarding reproductive health care or gender-affirming services. 

Deputy Police Chief Laura Lanham agreed with Towers and said that Maryland police departments are not seeing evidence of officers interfering in reproductive and gender-affirming health care matters. 

This May, Gov. Wes Moore signed bills into law that preserve abortion rights and protect gender-affirming care. Though the State of Maryland remains a safe haven for those seeking these services, the passing of this legislation would limit the extent of law enforcement’s role by declaring reproductive and gender affirming care both matters prohibited from police involvement.

Denes said that, as elected officials, councilmembers have a duty to discuss and navigate tough issues, such as those related to the Hyattsville Bodily Autonomy Act. While speaking on the divisive legislation, Denes mentioned that a provision has been included to the proposed ordinance to permit the police department to investigate crimes including sex trafficking, domestic violence and hate crimes. 

“There is a strong need for people to feel safe in our city, and knowing that we will protect them during their most trying circumstances is not a waste of city resources,” Denes said.  

During the meeting Councilmember Joanne Waszczak (Ward 1) shared a personal story to the council that offered insight into the potentially life-altering impacts which the passing of this bodily autonomy act may produce. While assisting an individual who required a reproductive procedure, Waszczak found herself needing to navigate a legal dispute. If the council member helped this individual into the state of Maryland to complete this procedure, she was risking violation of the law. 

In the meeting Waszczak highlighted the importance of the Bodily Autonomy Act for individuals traveling interstate for certain reproductive and gender-related procedures. Waszczak raised the question as to why, despite Maryland being a “safe haven”, our current state laws require individuals dealing with such potentially personal and emotional medical matters to navigate fears of police involvement. 

Waszczak, as one of the multiple co-sponsors of the ordinance, said she perceives this act as a tool to protect the privacy of individuals, while preserving the health and welfare of the Hyattsville community. 

In a final remark Waszczak stated that just because the Hyattsville police department, social services team, and city staff are not aware of cases addressed by this act, that does not mean that such cases are nonexistent. 

The council did not take any action on the Bodily Autonomy Act. Consideration regarding further discussion and revision of the act may occur at a future date. 

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