Democratic governor, leaders move to expand abortion access

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov. Janet Mills and legislative leaders want to expand access to abortion — allowing abortions after 24 weeks with a doctor’s approval — and take steps to protect health care providers.

One of the bills would allow abortion access anytime before birth if deemed necessary by a medical provider. Current state law bans abortions after a fetus becomes viable outside the womb, at roughly 24 weeks.

Mills, a Democrat, cited the case of a Yarmouth veterinarian, Dana Peirce, who was forced to travel to Colorado for an abortion because it was forbidden in Maine later in pregnancy. Peirce learned 32 weeks into her pregnancy that the fetus had a deadly form of skeletal dysplasia.

“The decision to have an abortion is deeply personal and, as in Dana’s case, can be heartbreaking. Fundamentally, these are decisions that should be made by a woman and her medical provider,” Mills said.

The announcement by Mills, House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross and Senate President Troy Jackson — all Democrats — came days ahead of what would've been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned last June.

The lawmakers contended that one in three women across the country have lost access to safe, legal abortions since states began banning the procedure.

Talbot Ross said Maine is going to protect abortion access and health care providers, providing “a shelter from the storm and a beacon of hope.”

Several other Democrat-backed proposals would address out-of-date data collection rules, strengthen protections for health care providers, and prevent municipalities from restricting abortions, they said.

House Republicans issued a statement saying that the proposed changes were too extreme, and suggesting that Mainers are content with current law.

The policy director of the Christian Civic League of Maine questioned whether lawmakers should focus their attention on inflation and affordable housing instead of abortion, which he said is guaranteed to have an “emotional tug."

In Maine, a Republican governor in 1993 signed a law affirming the right to abortion before a fetus is viable. Under current law, abortion is only allowed after that if the life or health of the person who is pregnant is at risk, or if the pregnancy is no longer viable.

Mills said she hasn’t made a decision on whether Maine should put forward a constitutional amendment to enshrine the state law. She said the matter is currently under review by the attorney general.

Abortions later in pregnancy are extremely rare in Maine. State data from 2019 indicates that the vast majority of abortions happen in the first trimester of pregnancy. Nearly 70% happened before nine weeks and 92% of abortions are performed by the 12th week, according to the statistics.

In Peirce's case, she said she was shocked to learn during a routine ultrasound that her son — who she'd already named Cameron — had a deadly condition and was suffering in the womb from a broken bone and other problems. If he'd survived birth, he would've been unable to breathe, she said.

Peirce told The Associated Press that no one should have to go through such a painful experience — one that was made worse because she and her husband had to leave their young daughter behind in order to travel to another state for a procedure that was medically recommended in her home state.

“This was a really sad thing to happen. We did our best. I'm doing my best now to change it for other people,” she said.

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Follow David Sharp on Twitter @David_Sharp_AP

David Sharp, The Associated Press