AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate voted Thursday to allow nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurse midwives to provide abortion services, moving the proposal one step closer to being signed by Gov. Janet Mills and becoming law.

The largely party-line, 19-16 vote, in which Democrats backed the bill and Republicans opposed it, came after a handful of impassioned floor speeches from both sides. The vote came just two days after the Maine House voted 74-58 in support of the bill. The measure will face additional procedural votes in both bodies before it goes to Mills, who supports the bill.

The vote is the third in a week to broaden access to abortion in Maine even as states such as Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia and Alabama have approved some of the most restrictive abortion limits in years. Those laws are seen as steps toward a legal challenge to the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that protects women’s access to abortion.

Last week, both houses of the Maine Legislature passed a bill that requires the state to fund abortion under its Medicaid program and obligates private insurers to include abortion among pregnancy-related benefits.

Supporters of the measure allowing advanced practice clinicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide abortions said it strengthens health care for women. Opponents said it would increase risks and result in more abortions, which they oppose.

Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion, said that lawmakers, most of whom were not doctors, should not be making such serious decisions about health care. He then questioned whether nurse midwives are qualified to perform abortions.

“Here we are making a decision on something that the Surgeon General should be doing,” Cyrway said. “I’m afraid we are overstepping our bounds in saying a midwife can actually do abortions. What would be the difference of us voting for a veterinarian to do it? I’m saying that we are looking at life and we need to take this more seriously.”

After listing the various possible complications and side effects of abortion, Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, asked lawmakers to imagine an image of a pregnancy sonogram. “Sonograms clearly show a beautiful little human, not just a blob of tissue,” she said.

But Sen. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, a physician, said abortions are a relatively low-risk medical procedure.

She pointed out that state law already allows nurse practitioners and others to perform procedures more complex than abortions and to prescribe medications, and that research “overwhelmingly supports the competency and ability of advanced practice clinicians to provide abortion care safely and effectively.”

Sanborn said rural states such as Maine depend on advance practice clinicians to provide care where there are few doctors.

“This bill will improve the delivery of care,” she said. “When we think about what an experience should be like for a woman who has made the decision to end a pregnancy we want her supported, we want her to receive care from someone she trusts.”

 

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