The partisan debate over Gov. Janet Mills’ abortion access bill heated up quickly Wednesday, with dueling news conferences and an unsuccessful Republican bid to derail the just-printed legislation.

“This bill is beneath the dignity of this body and should die here today before it has a chance to kill anybody,” said House Assistant Minority Leader Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester.

State Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, speaks during a press conference Wednesday at the State House in Augusta. Republican legislators are speaking in opposition of Gov. Janet Mills’ bill to expand abortion access beyond viability. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The bill, An Act to Improve Maine’s Reproductive Privacy Laws, lowers the standard for post-viability abortions, allowing them whenever a licensed physician deems it necessary instead of when the health or life of the mother is at risk. Fetal viability typically occurs at around 24 weeks.

Arata tried to stop the House from referring the bill to a committee, which is the first stop of all new legislation. She said the committee, Judiciary, didn’t have the expertise to weigh the pain and suffering caused by the later-in-pregnancy abortions allowed under Mills’ bill. Her effort failed on a 72-61 vote, mostly along party lines.

It was a political Hail Mary with little chance of success, but Republicans say Mills’ “depraved” and “evil” bill demands full-throated opposition because it permits “abortion on demand.” They say they would be willing to discuss later-in-pregnancy abortions in the case of fatal fetal diagnoses, which is the scenario that inspired Mills to want to change state law, but can’t support this kind of legislative overreach.

“This bill gives the word ‘extreme’ new meaning,” Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, said at a lunchtime news conference Republicans held to oppose the abortion bill. “This bill allows abortion at any time, for any reason. That is extreme. Mainers are reasonable, practical people who support reasonable limits on abortion.”


Democrats believe last fall’s election results, which gave them control of the state House and Senate and the Blaine House, prove that Mainers want state lawmakers who will defend and expand access to abortion now that the U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated the federal protections of Roe v. Wade. Mills’ bill came out of the Revisor’s Office with enough Democrat and independent co-sponsors to guarantee its passage.

“Maine people speak when they cast their votes on the ballot,” said Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, the Senate chair of the Judiciary Committee. “They’re thinking about all those times when somebody they knew, somebody they love, was making really difficult decisions about reproductive health care and how those decisions can be really hard and how we should leave those decisions to a patient and their doctor and not legislate them.”

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, speaks Wednesday outside the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Republicans say they hope that Democrats will reconsider some of the most extreme parts of the bill, such as the removal of criminal penalties for someone caught performing an abortion without a health care license, and vote against the bill. It has happened before, Republicans noted. In 2019, a carbon tax bill that garnered 62 co-sponsors died in committee, with all members, including the committee members who had co-sponsored it, voting ought not to pass.

But Democrats like Senate Assistant Minority Leader Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, don’t think that will happen this time. Daughtry said Mainers are tired of Republicans in Washington, D.C., or Augusta who, without medical degrees, want to vilify women who are facing deeply personal and painful healthcare decisions.

“It’s not about creating a free-for-all,” Daughtry said of Mills’ bill. “It’s about making sure that health care professionals have the best potential to serve their patients. We believe that Maine women and Maine people and Maine families know what’s best for them.”

Both sides point to polling that they say backs up their belief that Mainers share their position on abortion.


Democrats point to a University of New Hampshire poll conducted after Mills said she was developing the bill that showed about two-thirds of Mainers said they supported abortion after 24 weeks if a doctor deemed it medically necessary. The survey sampled 800 people from all corners, political parties and age groups in Maine.

Republicans say that the poll question did not specify for whom the abortion was medically necessary, the baby or mother, and was thus misleading. They cite national polls showing a majority of the respondents do not support third-trimester abortions, and even fewer support third-trimester abortions for any reason.


The bill language released Tuesday does not include any specific conditions or limitations but leaves the decision up to the patient and physician about what circumstances would make abortion necessary.

The legislation also removes criminal penalties for doctors performing later-in-pregnancy abortions for reasons other than risk to the life or health of the mother. State law classifies those as Class D crimes now, the highest class of misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days of jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

A public hearing on the bill has not yet been scheduled.


Mills has said she was inspired to propose her legislation by the story of Dana Peirce of Falmouth, who had to fly to Colorado to end her 32-week pregnancy after a scan revealed a rare, painful and undoubtedly fatal genetic mutation in the fetus.

Opponents argue that the Mills’ bill is too broad and could legalize later-in-pregnancy abortions that do not involve fetal anomalies. Stories such as Peirce’s are heartbreaking, they say, but could be addressed by expanding the post-viability exemption list.

Opponents accuse Mills of reneging on her campaign pledge to leave the state abortion law alone.

After introducing the bill, Mills pushed back at critics and called it a rational, compassionate proposal that would help people like Peirce and not open any abortion floodgates. She said she didn’t break any promises – that voters knew they were electing an ardent abortion defender.

The number of people seeking abortions after the first trimester is small. In 2021, the most recent year data is available, 94% of the 1,905 abortions conducted in Maine were done within the first trimester of pregnancy, or up to 14 weeks. The remaining 107 occurred before 20 weeks.

Abortion-rights advocates note the chilling effect of Maine’s existing viability restrictions. The state law allows abortions for any reason through about 24 weeks, but doctors won’t do them after 20 weeks out of fear that imprecise gestational dating could lead to prosecution.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, which essentially made abortion a state-controlled issue, about half of the U.S. states enacted or began discussing abortion bans. In Maine, which has a strong abortion law, the issue helped Mills win a second term in November.

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