Dana Peirce, of Yarmouth, was at the State House Tuesday for a news conference about Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed Act to Improve the Maine Reproductive Privacy Act, a bill Peirce inspired when she wrote about having to go to Colorado for an abortion after learning at 32 weeks into her pregnancy that the son she was carrying a had a lethal disease. Currently, Maine law doesn’t allow abortions after fetal viability, which is generally 22 to 24 weeks. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Dana Peirce was eight months pregnant when doctors told her the baby she was carrying – a second child that she and her husband had already named Cameron – had a rare genetic mutation called lethal skeletal dysplasia that would kill him, either inside her womb or shortly after his birth.

The intense grief of the loss and the painful details of Cameron’s condition rocked the Yarmouth veterinarian. His head was much larger than it should have been and his limbs much shorter. Though his heart was normal, his ribs had not grown and his lungs could not fill with air. If he survived birth, he would not be able to breathe. The scan also showed several broken bones. Despite all outward signs of a normal pregnancy, Cameron had obviously been suffering.

Gov. Janet Mills speaks during a news conference about new legislation to protect abortion rights in Maine on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Peirce and her husband, Jonathan Watling, were devastated. Everything had been fine at the 20-week ultrasound. They’d just closed on a new house that morning to hold their growing family, which included a 3-year-old daughter who sat on their laps as they got the bad news. But Peirce and Watling, a surgeon, understood the severity of the diagnosis and wanted to take immediate action to end Cameron’s suffering. It was Peirce who first uttered the word abortion.

She assumed she’d go home, grab an overnight bag, and return that day or maybe the next to Maine Medical Center for an emergency abortion. She was shocked to learn that was not allowed under Maine law. She was told she would have to leave behind her friends and her family, and the child who sat crying on her lap, and fly to Washington, D.C., or Colorado for the medical care required to end the pregnancy.

“It is hard to put into words how that realization broke me,” Peirce told lawmakers in 2019 a few months after her Colorado abortion. “I can’t change what went wrong with my son. But I hope to help change how we treat women, who for whatever reason, need an abortion. Mine was a very sad situation that was made much worse by current laws. I can’t fix what happened to me. But by sharing my experience, I’m trying to make it better for somebody else.”

Peirce’s story was the inspiration for Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed Act to Improve the Maine Reproductive Privacy Act, the 1993 state law that codifies the right to an abortion in Maine. This bill, one of four abortion measures unveiled at the statehouse Tuesday, would allow abortions after the point of viability, which in Maine is about 22 to 24 weeks, with approval from a qualified medical professional. If passed, Maine would join six other states and Washington, D.C., in eliminating gestational limits from abortion access laws.


In 2019, the Boulder Abortion Clinic in Colorado was one of the few places a woman in the United States could receive an abortion later in pregnancy when coming from out of state. Peirce and Watling hired a babysitter to watch their daughter and caught a flight to Colorado. Inside the clinic, which was encased in bulletproof glass, doctors ended the pregnancy with an injection. The next day, they medically induced the delivery of Cameron’s lifeless body. They wrapped him in a blanket and a donated hat for the couple to hold while they said goodbye.

The entire weeklong process cost about $40,000. The abortion itself was a high-risk procedure that cost $25,000. Constantly changing flight and hotel reservations warranted by the changing medical advice drove costs up. None of it was covered by insurance. Peirce knows they were lucky that she and her husband had the financial means, or in their case, credit cards with high limits, to afford such a high out-of-pocket cost. She knows most Mainers don’t.


She said she couldn’t imagine if she’d had to endure another month of pregnancy knowing that Cameron was suffering inside her the entire time. And while she said her biggest concern was for the baby, Peirce said she was also afraid of what delivering a child with such a large head might do to her own body, whether she attempted a vaginal birth or the more likely emergency cesarean section. The delivery was so risky that Maine Medical Center refused to allow Peirce to return home to deliver Cameron’s lifeless body in Maine near friends and family.

Peirce said she shares her abortion story to help educate people who don’t understand why there is a need for abortion protections for people in the later stages of pregnancy.

“We’re not evil women,” said Peirce, wiggling her fingers around her wide-eyed, pig-tailed face during an interview after a statehouse news conference on the law that she inspired. Peirce had stood in the background while Mills talked, nodding her support. “You don’t have to imagine who we are. I’ll tell you my story. It’s really sad stuff. It almost never happens, but there are enough people on the planet that it does happen, and I know because it happened to me.”

About a dozen Maine residents a year need late-in-pregnancy abortions, almost always due to the recent discovery of medical fetal anomalies, according to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. Seventy percent of the 2,000 abortions performed in Maine each year occur in the first nine weeks of pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood of New England statistics. Nine out of 10 of all Maine abortions take place before the 12th week of pregnancy.

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