Gov. Janet Mills speaks during a news conference Tuesday about new legislation to protect abortion rights in Maine, including a bill that would extend abortion access throughout pregnancy for medical reasons. During her campaign, the governor had said she had no plans to change the state’s current law prohibiting abortions beyond fetal viability, typically 22 to 24 weeks. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

On the campaign trail, Gov. Janet Mills said she had no plans to change Maine’s 30-year-old abortion law. Three months later, after winning reelection, Mills is doing exactly what she said she wouldn’t do: trying to change the state abortion law.

“I support the current Maine law,” Mills said at the first gubernatorial debate in October. “It reflects Roe v. Wade, which tragically the U.S. Supreme Court has chosen to overturn. I believe a woman’s right to choose is just that, it’s a woman’s right, not a politician’s.”

When pressed, Mills reaffirmed: “I have no plans to change the current law.”

On Tuesday, Mills unveiled a bill that would extend access to abortion beyond fetal viability, which is generally considered to be about 24 weeks, but only when deemed necessary in the professional judgment of a qualified health care professional.

Republicans and anti-abortion activists have attacked the bill as a radical assault on the sanctity of life, and they also are framing it as a political flip-flop, the very thing that Mills had accused election rival Paul LePage of doing during the campaign to try to win over moderates.

“This runs counter to wide support for current Maine law that restricts abortions after fetal viability,” House Republicans said. “Despite statements suggesting Republicans would seek to change Maine’s abortion law, it is now Governor Mills who is looking to make Maine’s the most extreme in the country.”


The 75-year-old Democrat doesn’t consider it a flip-flop, but rather an “amplification” of her consistent support for a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion. Mainers who voted for Mills in November are getting exactly what was advertised, she said – a staunch abortion defender.

“I have always been, quote, pro-choice as the term has been used, never flip-flopped in that regard, never changed the position that in my view, in many people’s view, abortion is a decision to be made between a woman and her doctor,” Mills said Friday an interview via Zoom from a snow-covered State Capitol.

Mills insisted: “This proposal carries forward that same belief, that same position, that same opinion.”

“What is being proposed is not radical or extreme,” she said. “It addresses the very rare, heartbreaking circumstance where facts come to the attention of the woman and her physician that may require an abortion later in pregnancy, circumstances that are arguably not covered by the current law.”

What is extreme and radical, Mills said, is what has happened since Roe v. Wade was struck down – the attempted firebombing of an abortion clinic, threatening to prosecute a 10-year-old child who had been raped and her doctor, and threatening to jail women who take abortion pills.

“Those are extreme and radical measures, not what we’re proposing here,” Mills said.



It remains unclear exactly what the bill will say, as the language is still under development, but Mills said on Friday that her proposal would maintain Maine’s current viability standard, allowing women to end their pregnancy for any reason through 24 weeks.

Dana Peirce at the State House on Tuesday. Peirce had to travel to Colorado for an abortion after she and her husband learned that their second child had a rare genetic mutation that resulted in a deadly form of skeletal dysplasia, which led to broken bones in the womb and a rib cage too small to let him breathe. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

It would replace the existing exception language, which allows for abortions after 24 weeks if the life or health of the mother is at risk, with wording that allows post-viability abortions “only when necessary in the professional judgment of the health care professional.”

Mills singled out the words “necessary” and “professional judgment” when defending the bill.

“The word necessary is an important term,” Mills said. “Necessary, not casual. Not frivolous. Necessary. We are not opening the floodgates or opening the door as wide as some might think. It’s not an extreme measure. It is, I believe, a rational proposal and a compassionate proposal.”

Her goal is to take abortion out of the political arena and turn it over to patients and doctors. The bill will help the Dana Peirces of the world, she said, referencing the Yarmouth mom who had to fly to Colorado to abort a 32-week fetus just diagnosed with a rare genetic mutation that would have led to his painful death.


She said she did not know she was going to introduce the bill until after the election. She came to that decision after talking with her staff about ways to preserve Mainers’ right to abortion and considering the heartbreaking stories that women shared with her at the end of the campaign.

“I recognized that Maine law was not allowing some women to make this decision with their doctor, and because of that, they were experiencing great emotional and financial distress,” Mills said. “I decided that we could, and must, do better by Maine women.”

Supporters hail Mills’ bill and three others from Democrats as an expansion of Maine’s abortion law.

“For millions of Americans, this is a dark time when they no longer have control over their own bodies or their health care decisions,” said Arthur Padilla, the executive director of ACLU of Maine. “But the story is different here. Maine stands as a beacon, ready to expand access to abortions to anyone who needs it.”

But would the bill allow post-viability abortions for Mainers with other compelling reasons, like the sudden death of a spouse or a domestic violence victim whose partner had prevented them from getting an abortion before the 24-week window? That remains unclear.

The number of women seeking abortions after fetal viability is very, very small – roughly 12 a year in Maine, according to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England – but research out of the University of California San Francisco shows that fetal anomaly is not the only reason women seek them.


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 Northern New England statistics. Nine out of 10 of all Maine abortions take place before the 12th week of pregnancy.

Abortions that take place after the first trimester happen because people get new information they didn’t have before, such as learning about a fetal or maternal health issue or the loss of a job or spouse, and because of social, economic and logistical barriers to abortion care, including the obstacles facing people who live in states where abortion is illegal who must find the money, access and time off from work to obtain care in a state where abortions are legal, according to a 2019 study out of the University of California San Francisco.


According to Mills, her bill would leave it up to Maine’s qualified medical professionals to decide if non-medical cases would qualify for a post-viability abortion. She clearly designed the bill to help people like Peirce, whose story of great emotional and financial distress moved Mills.

Some states that have wanted to ensure post-viability abortion access for people like Peirce have spelled fetal anomaly out as an exemption, but Mills doesn’t like that alternative because it’s not a medical term. Others exempt specific fetal abnormalities, but doctors argue that creating an exhaustive list is difficult.

In an after-hours email on Friday, Mills said the abortion position she is staking out in this bill is shared by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It didn’t respond to questions Friday night, but the group, like Mills, is a vocal abortion access supporter.


Just last week, ACOG President Iffath Abbasi Hoskins condemned the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would require healthcare providers to try to save the life of a baby in the rare case it is born alive after an attempted abortion.

He said the bill sought to interfere with medical decision-making around abortions later in pregnancy.

“Patients make these healthcare decisions thoughtfully, carefully and painstakingly,” Hoskins wrote. “These incredibly difficult medical decisions should be made by patients in consultation with their physicians and without any external interferences.”

The Maine Medical Association has not taken a position on Mills’ bill, and won’t until it sees exact language, but Erik Steele, the group’s president and a family physician in Scarborough who offered obstetric care while at Eastern Maine Medical Center, said MMA supports the right to abortion for fatal fetal abnormalities.

The group will have to talk to reproductive health experts and its members before deciding if it would support post-viability abortions in compelling scenarios that do not threaten the health of the fetus or the mother, like those cited in the University of California San Francisco research, Steele said.

He said most of his members would probably like that Mills’ bill intends to take the politics out of what ought to be a medical decision, but said there would need to be a great deal of work done even after the bill language is developed to determine under what circumstances it could be applied.


“It is so difficult to legislate such a complex, intensely personal decision, but clarity is critical,” he said. “There is only a small group of specialists qualified to work in this field, but they’d need to understand exactly what is allowed in such a high-risk area, as would referring physicians.”

In addition to Mills’ bill, Democratic lawmakers introduced three other abortion proposals this week: one bans towns from overriding state abortion law, one protects abortion providers who treat patients from states where abortion is banned and one eliminates abortion health insurance co-pays.

Mills said she will consider enshrining Mainers’ right to abortion in the Maine Constitution if Attorney General Aaron Frey deems it necessary. At least three state lawmakers are not waiting – they’ve already filed bills that appear to seek constitutional protection for abortion.


Mills’ bill was unveiled ahead of what would have marked the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed federal protections for abortion. Since the Court overturned those protections in June, one in three Americans have lost the right to get an abortion in their home state.

Mills said she would light a candle in the window of the Blaine House on Sunday, the day she had planned to celebrate Roe, to “shine a light” on her continued commitment to defending reproductive health care in Maine. The governor encouraged Mainers to join her by doing the same.

Abortion emerged as one of the top issues of the last campaign cycle after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last spring, ending a woman’s right to an abortion under the U.S. Constitution and throwing the legality of abortion back to the states. It led to abortion bans in a dozen conservative states.

Maine is one of just 17 states with a law that explicitly protects a woman’s right to abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that studies national abortion trends. Twelve states have adopted abortion bans, with exceptions on a state-by-state basis in cases of rape, incest, or risk to a mother’s life.

Enacted in 1993 under Republican Gov. John McKernan, Maine’s law allows abortions up until fetal viability, which generally occurs between 22 and 24 weeks. After that, an abortion may only be performed to preserve the life or health of the mother.

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