Broad Coalition Strongly Endorses Legislation Empowering Women & Doctors to Make Reproductive Health Care Decisions

Religious leaders, medical professionals, and reproductive health care experts praise bill from Governor Mills, Senate President Jackson and Speaker Talbot Ross to ensure that decisions about abortions are made by women & doctors, not politicians

A broad coalition of organizations – including religious leaders, medical professionals, reproductive health care experts, and others – are strongly endorsing legislation from Governor Janet Mills, Senate President Troy Jackson, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross to make clear in Maine law that a decision about whether to have an abortion later in pregnancy will be made by a woman and her doctor – not politicians.

The Governor’s bill, sponsored Speaker Talbot Ross and cosponsored by Senate President Jackson, was introduced today and comes as abortion rights remain under attack across the country, including a ruling last week from a Federal judge in Texas blocking the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, a safe and effective drug used in medication abortion since its approval more than 20 years ago

“Like the majority of Christians across the United States, the Maine Council of Churches believes abortion should be safe and legal. We affirm the ability of pregnant people to make good moral choices and believe the decision to end a pregnancy can be such a choice. Abortion is a complex health care and moral issue requiring nuanced medical, ethical and spiritual discernment in each unique situation, without interference from the government,” said Jane Field, Executive Director of the Maine Council of Churches. “Our state currently requires families in the midst of unimaginable pain and crisis to travel out of state for abortion care late in pregnancy because our current laws fall short. This bill will provide Mainers and their medical providers the freedom and the privacy to make these decisions safely here at home and it will help ensure medical providers in Maine can offer the care their patients need when they need it throughout a pregnancy.

“The reasons why people seek abortions are complex. All medical care, including the very personal and private decision of abortion, is best determined in an office by patients and trusted health care providers focused on consensus, evidence-based medical decision-making,” said Maine Medical Association President, Erik Steele, D.O. “Maine physicians are face-to-face with real people every day. We understand more than anyone the anxiety, fear, and differing personal circumstances of each patient, including the real-life impacts of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. We stand steadfast with Governor Mills in defense of the health care of all Mainers and our profession.”

“This legislation will reinforce Maine’s position as a leader in protecting abortion access by repealing outdated and anti-science laws criminalizing this essential healthcare,” said Meagan Sway, Policy Director for the ACLU of Maine. “Across the country, too many states are banning abortion and threatening prosecution against patients and providers. All people in Maine should be able to make the best health care decisions for themselves without legal threats or judgment, including the ability to access abortion care.”

“Thirty years ago, Maine's Reproductive Privacy Act helped set the standard for our rights. But it's time to update the RPA to ensure that it keeps pace with our knowledge and experiences. It's time to protect and support patients who need abortion care later in pregnancy here in Maine,” said Destie Hohman Sprague, Executive Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby.

“Mainers deserve to be able to get medical care from a provider they trust in their home state. This bill will help make sure every person who needs abortion care in Maine can get the care they need, when they need it. It will also repeal criminal penalties attached to Maine’s abortion laws because no medical professional should face the threat of jail when providing health care to their patients,” said Nicole Clegg, Acting CEO, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund. “Maine lawmakers have an opportunity with An Act to Improve Maine’s Reproductive Privacy Law to set an example for state legislatures across the country, to lead with evidence-based policy and to trust medical providers and their patients to make private medical decisions. As we have seen over the past year, people opposed to abortion will not stop until they have banned access to legal abortion across the country, including here in Maine. I applaud our state leaders for taking steps to safeguard our rights and protect people seeking medical care and those who provide it.”

“The bill introduced by Governor Mills, Senate President Jackson, and House Leader Talbot Ross will make critical changes to our Reproductive Privacy Act that will move Maine closer to a future where everyone can access the health care they need in their community by providers they trust, and where abortion care is regulated like any other safe, legal medical procedure,” said Abbie Strout-Bentes, Director of Community Engagement for Mabel Wadsworth Center. “Abortion is safe, common, and essential. It is beyond time for us to treat it that way. We are grateful for our state’s leadership and commitment to reproductive freedom for all of us.”

“Abortion is essential, common, reproductive health care, and this bill is grounded in that truth,” said George Hill, President & CEO of Maine Family Planning. “Maine Family Planning looks forward to working with the Governor and legislative leaders on getting these important updates to the Reproductive Privacy Act passed this session.”

“At a time when abortion care is under attack, it is heartening to see Governor Mills’ leadership in showing up for Mainers who need abortion later in pregnancy. For a number of reasons, it is not always possible for people to access abortion care as soon as they would like to. Many things can stand in their way, and given the political climate bent on eliminating access to comprehensive care, these challenges have become insurmountable for many communities,” said Dr. Jamila Perritt, Ob/Gyn, President & CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health. “No matter who they are or what they're experiencing, people seeking abortion care deserve the highest quality medical treatment based on their individual needs and health circumstances. Medical standards, not politicians, should guide abortion care.”

Maine’s current law, the Reproductive Privacy Act, allows for abortion later in pregnancy to “preserve the life or health of the mother”, but this prescriptive approach to legislating a medical procedure fails to effectively address the wide variety of circumstances faced by pregnant women. The legislation introduced today removes these inflexible limitations from law and, instead, states that the personal decision about whether to have an abortion later in pregnancy will be made by a woman in consultation with her doctor.

The legislation is inspired by the story of Yarmouth resident Dana Peirce, who had to seek an abortion out-of-state after she discovered her child was suffering from a deadly form of skeletal dysplasia, a random, rare genetic mutation. Maine’s abortion laws prevented her from accessing care here in Maine. This bill seeks to ensure that no Maine person has to endure the same physical, emotional, psychological, and financial burden that Peirce did in order to receive medical care.

“We learned during the 32nd week of a seemingly healthy pregnancy that the baby I was carrying, Cameron, had a rare and lethal form of skeletal dysplasia. He had multiple broken bones, and if he survived until delivery, he would not have been able to breathe outside of me. In this moment of shock and grief, my doctors here in Maine could not help us, because current state law bans abortions later in pregnancy,” said Dana Peirce of Yarmouth. “Fortunately, we were lucky enough to have the social and financial resources – the abortion alone cost $25,000 – to travel across the country for abortion care, to end our son's suffering. So many Mainers do not have those same resources. I can't change what happened to us, but I will continue to tell our story and hope that Maine lawmakers will hear me, realize the power they have in this moment, and act.”

The legislation – which Governor Mills, Senate President Jackson and Speaker Talbot Ross announced in January – also eliminates language in current law that subjects medical providers who perform abortions to criminal penalties under certain circumstances, instead regulating abortion like other safe, legal medical procedures. It also updates antiquated data collection policies related to abortion care to reduce stigma, protect patient privacy, and protect reproductive health care providers.

It comes as abortion rights continue to be under attack both in Maine and across the nation. Even after Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, Republican lawmakers in Maine are continuing to introduce bills to restrict access to abortion and related reproductive health care, including bills to force ultrasounds, mandate biased counseling, take away insurance coverage of abortion for low-income people, and restrict access for rural Mainers.

A Federal judge in Texas last week issued a ruling blocking the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, a safe and effective drug used in medication abortion since its approval more than 20 years ago.

Nearly all abortions in Maine occur during the first trimester. 92 percent of all abortions in Maine occur by the 12th week of pregnancy, with nearly 70 percent occurring before nine weeks. Abortions at or after 21 weeks are rare and represent one percent of all abortions in the United States.

In Maine, Governor Mills, Senate President Jackson, and Speaker Talbot Ross have fought to empower women to make their own decisions about their reproductive health. The leaders have enacted laws that prevent protestors from blocking health clinics, that require public and private insurance coverage of abortion services, and that made those services available to people in rural and urban areas of Maine. The Governor has also expanded postpartum Medicaid health care coverage from 60 days after a woman gives birth to 12 months.

Governor Mills also recently joined 20 fellow governors to launch the Reproductive Freedom Alliance, a multi-state coalition focused on protecting and expanding reproductive rights.

Read the full bill here (PDF).