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Gov. Mills signs controversial bill lifting key restrictions on abortions late in pregnancy

Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a press conference earlier this year about her proposal to allow an abortion later in a pregnancy if a doctor deems it necessary.
Kevin Miller
Maine Public
Gov. Janet Mills on July 19, 2023 signs into law a bill that allows abortions late in a pregnancy in Maine when a doctors says the procedure is medically necessary.

Gov. Janet Mills has signed into law a bill that removes restrictions on abortions later in a pregnancy, moving Maine in the opposite direction politically of many states on the contentious issue.

The bill to expand access to abortion in Maine was one of the most controversial of this year's legislative session and only narrowly received initial passage in the Maine House after Democratic leaders corralled every last vote.

Currently, abortions are only allowed after the point of fetal viability when the pregnancy poses a threat to the life or health of the mother. But the new Maine law slated to take effect this fall will allow abortions after viability – which is generally considered around 24 weeks into a pregnancy – whenever a doctor deems it to be medically necessary. Once the law is in effect, Maine will have among the least restrictive abortion policies in the nation.

Mills and Democratic legislative leaders say the change is needed to address the rare but heartbreaking instances when women discover late in a pregnancy that the fetus has a fatal anomaly. Right now, those women have to travel to other states to have the procedure performed, which bill supporters say takes them away from their support network and can cost thousands of dollars. Opponents, however, called the bill extreme and predicted that it could allow abortions in the latter stages of a pregnancy even when a fetus does not have a fatal condition.

Mills called those arguments false and, instead, accused abortion opponents in Maine and other states of pushing “extreme” measures to severely restrict or ban abortion.

"Today the state of Maine follows best medical practice by modernizing our laws to get politicians out of reproductive health care and make clear that the difficult decision about whether to have an abortion later in a pregnancy will be made by a woman and her doctor and no one else,” Mills said during a bill-signing ceremony in her State House office suite.

As she spoke, Mills was flanked by medical professionals, lawmakers, clergy members and women who shared their personal stories during the legislative process. Among them was Dana Peirce, a Yarmouth resident who had to travel across the country to receive an abortion after a routine exam showed that her baby was suffering from a rare and fatal genetic mutation.

“In 2019, I wasn’t able to have an abortion in Maine,” Peirce said. “But because of Governor Mills and our phenomenal 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. Everyone deserves safe, legal, compassionate and affordable health care and support in life and especially throughout pregnancy. Abortion for any reason is a deeply personal decision and is one that should be left to pregnant people and their medical team.”

Gov. Janet Mills watches July 19, 2023 as Dana Peirce of Yarmouth talks about having to travel out of state to obtain an abortion late in her pregnancy after the fetus was diagnosed with a fatal condition.
Kevin Miller
Maine Public
Gov. Janet Mills watches July 19, 2023 as Dana Peirce of Yarmouth talks about having to travel out of state to obtain an abortion late in her pregnancy after the fetus was diagnosed with a fatal condition.

The bill galvanized Maine's anti-abortion movement, who testified by the hundreds during a 19-hour-long public hearing. They filled the State House both during the public hearing day and in the weeks that followed, often holding prayer circles and singing hymns while lawmakers met in the House and Senate chambers. And they came close to defeating the bill – at least on initial passage – in the House. But the bill ultimately received final approval in the House on a vote of 73-69 and in the Senate on a vote of 20-11. Every Republican present in the chambers voted against the bill as did a handful of Democrats.

Joel Stetkis, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said in a statement after the bill signing that it was “truly a dark day for our beloved state of Maine.”

“This new law is more permissive than almost every other state and country on the planet, and it’s a reflection of how far left Mills and her fellow Democrats have taken this state,” Stetkis said. “Folks should know that this abortion-til-birth bill faced bipartisan opposition in the Legislature but it was still rammed through by Mills and ultra-far left wingers. Janet Mills also explicitly promised to leave Maine’s abortion laws alone on the campaign trail and she has now broken that promise, making it crystal clear that Democrats in Augusta care far more about the desires of the big money out-of-state special interest groups who fill their campaign accounts with millions of dollars than the voices of Maine citizens who they are supposed to represent.”

But Mills won a second term last November and Democrats retained control of the Maine Legislature after making access to abortion a major focus of their campaigns. In addition to the bill signed into law on Wednesday, Mills and her allies have enacted laws to protect Maine health care providers to perform abortions for women who live in states where the procedure is limited or banned as well as other laws to expand access.

“Twenty states have enacted bans or near total bans on abortion care since the U.S. Supreme Court revoked federal protections for abortion, but not Maine,” Nicole Clegg, acting CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said in a statement. “Our elected leaders listened to voters and acted to protect and expand our reproductive rights and freedoms. Today, Governor Mills has signed a fifth important piece of legislation into law since the loss of Roe that is designed to protect Mainers’ basic rights and their futures.”

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