Politics

May 17, 2013

Maine panel rejects abortion-related bills

The ACLU cheers the legislative panel's votes on measures aimed at 'chipping away' at rights.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — A legislative committee recommended against passage of three abortion-related bills Friday, a day after pro-choice advocates said the measures could limit access to the procedure.

Two of the bills the Legislature's Judiciary Committee rejected directly relate to abortion. One would require that women be given certain information before having an abortion, and the other would mandate that parental consent be obtained before most minors could get abortions.

Both were rejected 8-5 by the Democratic-led committee, mostly along party lines, with Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, and Rep. Michael Beaulieu, R-Auburn, voting against other members of their parties.

L.D. 760, sponsored by Rep. Eleanor Espling, R-New Gloucester, would mandate that a woman be given certain information before aborting, including "the name of the physician performing the abortion, scientifically accurate information about the fetus and the father's liability for support."

Maine law now requires that a woman be told what abortion entails and the gestational age of the fetus before an abortion is performed. A doctor must discuss alternatives to abortion at the woman's request.

At a public hearing on the bill Thursday, pro-choice groups said current protections were sufficient and most girls who abort involve parents in their decision, while pro-life advocates said that in many cases, parents may not know when their child has an abortion.

The other bill, L.D. 1339, sponsored by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, would mandate "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. Currently, Maine requires girls 17 or younger to get consent from a parent, guardian, adult family member or judge before getting an abortion.

The third bill, L.D. 1193, sponsored by Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, was rejected 7-6 by the committee, with Beaulieu joining members of his party in the minority and Tuttle voting with Republicans. It would allow a wrongful-death lawsuit to be filed in the death of a viable fetus. A legal abortion would exempt a mother and abortion provider from being sued by the fetus's estate.

Proponents of the measure noted that a vast majority of states allow for civil lawsuits to be filed if a fetus is injured by reckless actions, such as drunken-driving accidents.

But Shenna Bellows, executive director of the pro-choice American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said the bill could still put a burden on an abortion provider to prove in a court that an abortion was legal.

In a statement Friday, Bellows cheered the committee votes.

"We applaud the committee for standing up for women's health and rejecting these three bad bills, which are very clearly aimed at chipping away at abortion rights," she said. "The government should not be placing added burdens and pressures on women as they make these difficult and personal decisions."

Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, which supported all three measures, said he felt that his group's intent was mischaracterized by opponents. For example, some opponents of Espling's bill said it was intended to "shame" women seeking an abortion.

"I don't know how information became shameful," he said.

The league has supported similar bills in the past, and similar bills failed in the Legislature in 2011.

"We're disappointed, but our mission at the Christian Civic League is to bring a biblical perspective to public policy," Conley said Friday. "You stand up for what you believe in."

Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

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