Dana Peirce, at her home in Yarmouth on Tuesday, had to travel to Colorado in 2019 to terminate her pregnancy at 32 weeks because a gray area in Maine’s law meant she couldn’t get an abortion in her home state. Her plight helped inspire Maine’s new law expanding abortion access. She and her husband planned to name the baby boy Cameron and keep things around the house to remind them of him. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Dana Peirce had no idea when she wrote a newspaper op-ed and testified in favor of abortion rights bills that her personal story would reverberate so powerfully that it would spur action to change Maine’s abortion laws.

In 2019, Peirce had to travel to Colorado to terminate her pregnancy at 32 weeks because a gray area in Maine’s law meant she couldn’t get an abortion in her home state. Peirce said she knew that wasn’t right, and now it won’t happen to others.

Her story resonated with many – including Gov. Janet Mills – and helped spur action in 2023 on what would become a law to expand abortion access in Maine.

The law, which removes almost all legal barriers to abortion care in Maine, takes effect Wednesday.

“It feels amazing,” Peirce, 44, said of the new law in an interview at her Yarmouth home on Tuesday. “Women are so often demonized for simply doing their best in a bad situation. If people like me don’t speak up, the only stories you hear are the ones where women are being othered.”

Peirce said she was motivated to tell her story – of having to go out of state for the abortion because the laws in Maine were murky about whether it would have been legal – because so many women feel stigmatized or don’t want to share their difficult times with others.


Peirce wrote an op-ed for the Press Herald in November 2022 and her story caught the governor’s attention. The Mills administration and Democratic lawmakers in the Legislature pushed through the expansion of abortion rights during the 2023 session, over the objections of Republicans and anti-abortion activists.

Abortions that occur later in pregnancy, at 20 weeks or later, are extremely rare. In 2022, only six of 2,225 abortions performed in Maine were done at 20 weeks or later. About 60% of abortions were medication abortions done early in pregnancy.

The state doesn’t track the number of Maine residents who leave the state for abortions, so it’s unknown how many Maine women have had to, like Pierce, travel out of state for an abortion.

But Nicole Clegg, acting CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the law needed to change. Despite the rare circumstances, it was unfair to ask women – many of whom faced difficult circumstances after learning about severe fetal complications later in the pregnancy – to go out-of-state for an abortion. Maine previously outlawed abortions after fetal viability, when a prematurely born baby could live outside the womb – typically considered to be 22 to 24 weeks. There was an exception for the life and health of the mother, but Clegg said the vague wording of the law made it so that many health care providers were unwilling to perform abortions in Maine post-viability.

“The law wasn’t clear, and you didn’t know what you could and couldn’t do, so in that case providers are always going to be be more conservative and more careful,” Clegg said. She said doctors and other abortion providers wanted to be able to give the care their patients needed, but couldn’t. Doctors, including Dr. Kathryn Sharpless, a Yarmouth OB/GYN, testified in favor of the bill, as did the Maine Medical Association, which represents doctors before the Legislature.

“The new law means health care providers will now be able to provide the appropriate medical care to people who need abortion care throughout pregnancy,” Sharpless said in an email Tuesday. “And, Mainers will no longer be forced to leave the state to obtain that care when they need it.”


The new law allows abortions to be performed at any time with the approval of a physician. Maine is now among a handful of states with the least restrictions on abortion rights.

While Maine expanded abortion rights, many other states have approved new restrictions or bans on abortion since the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. There are now 18 states with strict restrictions or bans on abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a national abortion rights think tank. As of Tuesday, the institute had not yet updated Maine’s status taking the new law into account, but it will likely join seven other states, including Oregon, Minnesota, New York and Vermont, considered most protective of abortion rights.

But anti-abortion advocates have criticized Mills and legislative Democrats for the new law, and thousands packed the State House during hearings, and even lined the hallways on days when the bill wasn’t coming up for discussion.

Mike McClellan, policy director for the Christian Civic League of Maine, said the new law is “terrible” for Maine.

“The stories used to justify this overreach were sad, even tragic,” McClellan said. “The reality was that current Maine law would have sufficed in these cases.”

McClellan said no rallies or protests against the new law are planned for Wednesday, when the law goes into effect.



Peirce said as far as she knew her pregnancy was progressing well. An ultrasound at 20 weeks did not turn up any abnormalities, and other tests did not signal any problems. Peirce and her husband, Dr. Jon Watling, had picked out a name, Cameron, for the baby they thought was to be their soon-to-be born boy.

But in January 2019, at 32 weeks, her final ultrasound revealed the fetus had a fatal condition – lethal skeletal dysplasia. The condition meant that the skeletal structure for the fetus was not large enough for the organs, Peirce said. For instance, the heart took up too much room in the ribcage, leaving no space for the lungs.

The fetus’ bones were fracturing in the womb, and was suffering. If Peirce had been forced to deliver, the baby likely would have died a horrible death at birth, with delivery crushing his bones, Peirce said. If he somehow survived the birth, he wouldn’t have been able to breathe, she said, and would have died immediately.

Faced with the grim diagnosis, Peirce said her doctors prepared her for an abortion, and she was expecting to “go home and cry, pack a bag and then go to the hospital” for the abortion. But at a follow-up appointment, doctors told her she would need to go out of state.

“I was pissed. I was really angry,” Peirce said. The trip to Colorado took five days, cost $40,000 out of pocket because insurance wouldn’t cover the procedure, and left Peirce feeling, among many things, that something had to change. Her family, herself as a veterinarian and her husband a surgeon, could afford the disruption. Many others could not.


“I couldn’t help thinking that we were coming from this at a place of privilege,” Peirce said. “This could happen to anyone. How many other women could afford to do what we did?”

She said it’s unknown what would have happened to her medically had she been forced to give birth, but continuing the pregnancy was risky.

“Having an abortion was safer for me,” Peirce said. And, she knew Cameron was in pain, would continue to be in pain until they ended his suffering, and would have died either during or shortly after birth. Peirce has since given birth to a son, Graham, who is now 3. She and her husband also have a daughter, Hartley, 7.


Peirce’s story inspired Mills, who referred to Peirce during remarks she made at the signing ceremony on July 19 that Peirce attended.

Mills said it wasn’t right that Peirce had to travel  “away from her home and family, and at great personal expense, to get the care she needed.”

“Today that changes,” Mills said during the ceremony. “Maine law should recognize that every pregnancy, like every woman, is different and that politicians cannot effectively legislate the very personal and difficult nuances of abortion care by trying to create exception after exception for when abortions are or aren’t allowed.”

Peirce said the experience showed her that her story was powerful because stories like hers so often are hidden, even from family and friends.

“I’m not doing anything other than telling the story of what it was really like,” Peirce said.

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