Gov. Janet Mills signs a bill expanding access to abortion at the State House on Wednesday. The bill will permit women to get an abortion later in pregnancy when deemed medically necessary by a licensed physician. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills signed a historic law that expands access to abortions later in pregnancy on Wednesday, clearing the final hurdle to the adoption of what advocates say is the strongest abortion rights legislation in the nation even as other states are effectively banning the procedure.

Mills signed the law during a solemn State House ceremony attended by supporters and lawmakers who helped pass the hard-fought bill. It was one of five abortion access bills Mills signed this legislative session, including one that waives insurance co-pays and deductibles for abortions.

“Maine is following best medical practice by modernizing our laws to get politicians out of reproductive health care and to make clear that the difficult decision of whether to have an abortion later in pregnancy will be made by a woman and her doctor, not anyone else,” Mills said before signing.

Among those present was Dana Peirce of Yarmouth, who Mills said inspired her to propose the new law so women experiencing heartbreaking medical complications later in pregnancy no longer have to travel to another state, away from their families and at great personal expense, to get abortions.

Peirce, a veterinarian, flew to Colorado four years ago to get an abortion after a 32-week scan showed the son whom she and her husband had already decided to name Cameron had lethal skeletal dysplasia, a random and rare genetic mutation.

“I was not able to have an abortion in Maine, but because of Gov. Mills and other lawmakers who heard and really listened to my story, other Maine mothers in need of this medical care will not have to suffer like I did,” Peirce said. “My experience was a very sad situation made much worse by Maine’s former law.”


After Peirce spoke, she and Mills embraced, both holding back tears.

“Thank you for having the courage to come forward and saying what you had to say and tell the truth,” Mills told her. “It’s never easy on an issue like this to put yourself forward, identify yourself, and subject yourself to the slings and arrows of opposition forces, and I can’t thank you enough.”


Maine’s previous abortion law, adopted 30 years ago, allowed for abortions until viability and, after that, only if the mother’s life or health was at risk. But advocates say a dozen people a year leave Maine to get post-viability abortions, usually for fatal fetal anomalies, in one of the few states where they are allowed.

The new law allows licensed doctors to use their professional judgment to approve necessary abortions after a fetus becomes viable outside the womb, or at about 24 weeks. The law does not define necessary, but fatal fetal anomalies would fall under that category.

In 2021, 72% of all abortions in Maine, or 1,373 out of 1,915, were performed in the first nine weeks of pregnancy, and 94%, or 1,806 out of 1,915, were done within the first trimester, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Health and Human Services. None were performed after 20 weeks.


Maine joins Washington, D.C., and a handful of states, including Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont, with similar abortion protections, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Some of these are codified in state law, while others are embedded in the state constitution.

A constitutional right to abortion is more protective than one passed into law because the threshold for amending a state’s constitution is much higher than it is for repealing a law, said Nicole Clegg, the acting CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

But it is also much harder to achieve, requiring a two-thirds vote of lawmakers present in the House and Senate and approval at a statewide referendum. Given that Mills’ bill struggled to win a simple majority in the House, a constitutional amendment might be a long shot. But Clegg said it is a conversation worth having.

Some moderates had lobbied Mills to limit the scope of the bill by adding fatal fetal anomaly and child rape, which may not be discovered until later in pregnancy, to the list of exemptions allowed under the existing post-viability ban, but she refused, saying pregnancy was too complex to legislate.

“Maine law should and must recognize that every pregnancy, like every woman, is different,” Mills said. “Politicians cannot effectively legislate this very personal, very difficult decision and the difficult nuance of abortion care by trying to create exception after exception for when abortions are and aren’t allowed.”



Advocates say any doctor who performs a post-viability abortion that other doctors consider medically unnecessary could be subject to disciplinary action by a state licensing board and a malpractice lawsuit. Opponents claim the law could allow for abortion on demand through birth.

Mills took aim at her opponents and their claims in her remarks, calling them hypocritical and untrue.

“No doctor is performing abortions up until the moment of birth and no pregnant woman is just waking up suddenly and saying I should have an abortion today,” Mills said.

Opponents have painted the bill as extreme, using words like gruesome, depraved, barbaric and evil to describe it, Mills said. Protesters have warned Mills and other lawmakers they would have to answer to God for the bill’s passage.

“But what is extreme is forcing a woman to become dangerously ill from the pregnancy in order to seek abortion care,” Mills said. “What is extreme is forcing a woman to give birth to a child that is going to die. What is extreme is forcing a woman to leave her state to seek care.”

What is extreme are the virtual bans being adopted in conservative states across the country, such as in Florida, Iowa, Mississippi and Texas, that are being championed by the same “radical forces” that want to demonize Maine’s new abortion law as too extreme, Mills said.


“This bill is the opposite of that,” Mills insisted. “It is a reasonable, limited and compassionate response to the failings of current law and their impact on Maine women.”

The legislation also updated data collection policies related to abortion care to reduce the stigma around abortion, protect patient privacy and protect reproductive health care providers. Conservative states are threatening to pursue criminal charges against some women who travel out of state to get abortion care.

The law passed because of the support of Democrats, who hold majorities in both the House and Senate. The Senate passed the bill easily, 21-13. The bill struggled in the House, however, winning support in an initial vote of 74-72 after several Democrats joined the solid Republican opposition.

States across the nation have been debating abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, ending a woman’s right to an abortion under the U.S. Constitution. The case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization threw the legality of abortion back to the states.


The decision led to a wave of abortion bans and restrictions in a dozen conservative states, prompting at least some women in banned states to travel to Maine to get abortions they can no longer obtain in the state where they live, according to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.


Some states have codified existing abortion rights post-Dobbs, but advocates say Maine is the first state to expand abortion access. In addition to Mills’ bill, Maine also passed new laws to waive insurance co-pays for abortion and strengthen protections for abortion providers who treat out-of-state patients.

Democratic lawmakers turned back attempts by Republican lawmakers to restrict abortion, including bills that would have forced ultrasounds, mandated biased counseling, stripped insurance coverage of abortion for low-income people, and restricted access for rural Mainers through telehealth.

“It’s ironic to me that this has become partisan because in years past Republican legislators in Maine were pro-choice,” said Mills, who ticked off the names of former Republican politicians who favored abortion access. “But it has become partisan and that saddens me.”

Anti-abortion groups in Maine, including the Christian Civic League of Maine and Speak up for Life, an organization formed by Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, are weighing the idea of pursuing a people’s veto referendum to harness the power of the thousands of people who showed up in Augusta to fight the bill.

A Catholic Church-backed referendum to ban surgical abortions after the first trimester failed in 1999, but opponents say a people’s veto effort on this particular bill would be different. Civic League Director Carroll Conley told supporters: “The church has been stirred.”

But on Wednesday, David Clinard of Oakland stood alone outside the Cabinet Room, where the signing ceremony took place, in silent protest. He cradled a plastic fetus and held a hand-lettered sign that read “How much Planned Parenthood Blood $ have you taken, Gov. Mills???”

The retired respiratory therapist said he has protested abortion every chance he has since he observed the long-ago birth of a premature baby born at 24 weeks. He said that birth was a miracle and Maine’s new law was state-sanctioned murder and that he couldn’t be silent.

“I thought there’d be more people, but that’s OK,” Clinard said. “The politicians who did this may think they’re winning, but they’re really losing and don’t even know it. This is going on their eternal resume, and one day, they’ll have to answer for it.”


Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.