AUGUSTA — Roberta Zuckerman and her husband wanted badly to have a second child. After miscarrying, she went through fertility treatments. She got pregnant and was ecstatic.
Then she learned that the fetus had trisomy 13, a chromosomal abnormality that meant the baby would likely die within a year. After much thought, Zuckerman said, she and her husband chose to abort the child to spare it from suffering.
The psychotherapist from South Portland told lawmakers at a hearing Thursday that if the “informed consent” bill that’s now before the Legislature had been state law at the time, doctors would have been required to give her information that would have made the decision even more traumatic.
“This was the most painful time in our lives,” Zuckerman said. “I cannot begin to imagine the unnecessary and profound trauma that would have been caused . . . if the doctor who performed the abortion told me the details of the procedure,” as required in the bill.
Testifying in favor of the bill, Darcey Fraser of Plymouth said she was about to have an abortion 17 years ago when she learned that her 9-week-old fetus had begun developing features. She said her boyfriend supported abortion and providers suggested it, but the information she got saved the baby.
“When I heard my baby had fingers and toes and a beating heart, I knew I couldn’t kill her,” she said. “It’s amazing that Paije Ann Marie’s fingers and toes saved her life.”
Paije was in the committee room.
The bill, L.D. 760, sponsored by Rep. Eleanor Espling, R-New Gloucester, was one of three bills that brought abortion rights and anti-abortion advocates before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Testimony was passionate, lasting into Thursday evening.
Maine law now requires that a woman be told what abortion entails and the gestational age of the fetus before an abortion is done. At a woman’s request, a doctor must discuss alternatives to abortion.
Espling’s bill would ensure that a woman be given more information, including “the name of the physician performing the abortion, scientifically accurate information about the fetus and the father’s liability for support.”
L.D. 1339, sponsored by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, would require “written consent of a parent or legal guardian before an abortion may be performed on a minor or an incapacitated person.” The consent could be given in some circumstances by a brother or sister 21 or older, or a stepparent or grandparent.
Maine law now requires any girl 17 or younger to get consent from a parent, guardian, adult family member or judge before getting an abortion.
The two bills are examples of Republican efforts to tighten abortion laws around the country. They are considered unlikely to pass in the Maine Legislature, which has rejected similar bills in past sessions, including when Republicans had majorities in the House and Senate. Democrats have the majorities now.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage is staunchly anti-abortion, but his spokeswoman said he would not take a position on the abortion bills Thursday.
A third bill debated at the hearing, L.D. 1193, sponsored by Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, would allow a wrongful-death lawsuit to be filed in the death of a viable fetus past 12 weeks old. However, a legal abortion would exempt a mother and the abortion provider from being sued by the fetus’ estate.
Critics of that bill noted that the science used to determine viability is uncertain: one of the earliest-born babies ever to survive outside the womb was born at 21 weeks, according to a database from the University of Iowa.
Volk said she is considering amending that portion of her bill to 24 weeks.
Abortion rights groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, called all of the bills “anti-choice,” and said most minors who get abortions in Maine go to clinics with their parents and get sufficient information from doctors.
“We ask any minor who approaches us to involve their parents because we genuinely think it’s best for them to involve their parents,” said Ruth Lockhart, executive director of the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor, which provides abortions.
“The exceptions to this rule are tragic,” said Lockhart, speaking about Davis’ bill at a press conference before the hearing.
But Susan Leighton, a lobbyist for the Maine Right to Life Committee, said Davis’ bill is meant to “help parents help their kids” through an abortion, a trying emotional experience.
“Currently, my daughter is 17,” she said, “and if she were to be pregnant, she could go to an abortion clinic without my knowledge.”
By national standards, the Maine abortion laws targeted by Davis’ and Espling’s bills are more liberal than most.
Thirty-eight states, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York, require parental consent or notification or both, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports aborion rights.
Only Maine, Connecticut and the District of Columbia allow minors to get abortion services without parental consent.
The Guttmacher Institute said Maine is one of eight states with more relaxed informed-consent provisions.
Restrictive states such as Indiana and Kansas impose waiting periods before all non-emergency abortions and require women to receive written material saying “personhood” begins at conception.
“We’re not trying to take away choice,” said Leighton, the Maine Right to Life lobbyist. “If you’re pro-choice, you’re pro-informed.”
Abortion-rights advocates say current law is adequate. Megan Hannan, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said provisions in Espling’s bill are intended to “shame, judge and confuse” women.
“The reason we allow women to request additional information (rather than automatically giving it to them) is because we know there are many reasons women decide to end their pregnancy,” she said.
Volk’s bill is similar to laws in most other states. A 2008 fact sheet from the pro-choice Law Students for Reproductive Justice at New York University Law School says most court jurisdictions allow wrongful-death lawsuits for viable fetuses that die from injuries.
Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said that while Volk’s bill seeks to protect abortion providers, it could still put a burden on a provider to prove in a civil proceeding that an abortion was legal.
The Judiciary Committee will likely take positions on the bills Friday.
Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at:
Correction: This story has been updated to correct what information doctors must give women before performing abortions under Maine law and a reference to Law Students for Reproductive Justice at New York University Law School.