Friday, March 7, 2014
A trio of bills, each of which takes a different approach to the same goal -- restricting access to safe and legal abortion -- is before the Legislature, and we hope lawmakers reject the proposals as indefensible attempts to intrude into women's lives.
Abortion-rights activists hold up signs as anti-abortion demonstrators march toward the Supreme Court in Washington on Jan. 22, 2010, the 37th anniversary of the high court ruling that decriminalized abortion. Bills such as those now before the Maine Legislature are part of a push by opponents of abortion to chip away at women’s reproductive rights.
2010 File Photo/The Associated Press
L.D. 760 would expand Maine's informed consent law; L.D. 1339 would affect minors' access to abortion; and L.D. 1193 would give a fetus the right to bring a wrongful-death lawsuit.
Though the proposals are long shots, the organized opposition to them is justified. These bills raise important issues about medical ethics and fetal rights. And abortion-rights supporters must take every chance they can get to stand up for the right of women to make their own health care decisions since abortion opponents won't be backing down any time soon.
L.D. 760 and L.D. 1339 appropriate the language of patients' rights while actually giving the government more control over private lives.
Maine already requires an abortion provider to tell a woman the age of the fetus, the risks associated with abortion "and, at the woman's request, alternatives to abortion." L.D. 760 would require a doctor to inform a patient of abortion alternatives, whether or not the woman wants the information or thinks it's pertinent to her situation.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Eleanor Espling, R-New Gloucester, is pushing to require even more data, such as "scientifically accurate information about the fetus and the father's liability for support." These mandates far exceed a caregiver's professional obligation to advise a patient of any reasonable medical risk and would unduly burden both doctors and patients.
Sponsored by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, L.D. 1339 would repeal a law requiring a minor to get the permission of any adult family member in order to undergo an abortion. Instead, she would be required to obtain a parent's or guardian's written go-ahead.
At first glance, this seems reasonable. Even in states without parental consent laws, most girls under 18 who undergo abortions do confide in at least one parent. But requiring parental consent would endanger girls who come from abusive or violent homes and rightly fear their parents' reaction.
Scarborough Republican Rep. Amy Volk -- sponsor of L.D. 1193, which would give fetuses legal status in wrongful-death lawsuits -- has tried to frame the bill as an opportunity to protect women and fetuses. But a Maine woman already can file suit if she believes someone else's actions caused her to miscarry. There's no reason to give a fetus legal status in civil court unless the goal is ultimately to limit women's access to abortion.
Volk says that language in her bill specifically bars abortion providers from being sued. In fact, the bill would open the door for such lawsuits.
The bill says that a physician can't be sued for "performing an abortion permitted by law and for which required consent was given." But someone acting on the fetus' behalf could argue that the physician didn't obtain "required consent" and therefore had forfeited his or her protection from liability. It would be up to a judge to decide whether the person filing suit had a case or not; nothing would keep someone from suing in the first place.
Ever since the Roe v. Wade ruling, abortion opponents have tried to erode women's reproductive rights. Maine has a history of resisting efforts to implement such limits, and it's up to those now in Augusta to stand by Maine women as they make difficult -- and highly personal -- decisions.