May 17, 2013

Maine abortion measures bring out passions

Testimony continues into the evening on bills proposed by lawmakers opposed to abortion.

By Michael Shepherd
State House Bureau

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.

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Pro-choice and anti-abortion protesters exchange words in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic at 443 Congress St. in Portland in January. Strong passions were also at the center of public hearing Thursday, May 16, 2013 in Augusta on three abortion-related bills.

2013 Press Herald File Photo / John Patriquin

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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.

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Today's poll: Teen abortions

Do you think Maine legislators should pass a law that would make it harder for a girl 17 or under to get an abortion without parental consent?



View Results