AUGUSTA — Physician assistants and nurse practitioners soon will be permitted to perform abortions under legislation Gov. Janet Mills signed into law Monday.

Supporters argued that existing law restricts access to abortion – particularly in rural areas of Maine – by not allowing properly trained physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses to perform the medical procedure or prescribe drugs to terminate a pregnancy. Opponents, meanwhile, predicted the measure would increase risks for women and lead to more abortions in Maine.

A staunch defender of abortion rights and Maine’s first female governor, Mills introduced the bill this year and supported a similar measure last legislative session when she was serving as attorney general.

“Allowing qualified and licensed medical professionals to perform abortions will ensure that Maine women, especially those in rural areas, are able to access critical reproductive health care services when and where they need them from qualified providers they know and trust,” Mills said in a statement.

“These health care professionals are trained in family planning, counseling, and abortion procedures, the overwhelming majority of which are completed without complications,” Mills said. “By signing this bill into law, Maine is defending the rights of women and taking a step towards equalizing access to care as other states are seeking to undermine, rollback, or outright eliminate these services.”

The bill, L.D. 1261, was sponsored by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. With Mills in the governor’s office and Democrats controlling the Legislature, Maine is moving to expand access to abortion at a time when states such as Georgia, Alabama and Missouri are moving to severely restrict access.

Eight other states have similar laws allowing nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants to provide abortion services. The law will take effect in Maine 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

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