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Maine Pro-Choice Advocates Take Issue With Bill Targeting Abortion Clinics

Patty Wight

AUGUSTA, Maine - The new legislative session has barely gotten underway, and pro-choice groups are already gearing up for a fight over an innocuous-sounding bill they say could restrict abortion access.

The bill seeks to standardize medical facilities that provide outpatient medical procedures. It's a strategy that has been used by abortion opponents in other states.

The sponsor is Republican Rep. Deb Sanderson. And she wants to be clear about the goal of her bill, which has not yet been printed. "This has nothing to do with abortion," Sanderson says.

It only has to do with abortion clinics, she says, and their oversight - or lack thereof. Sanderson says that abortion clinics receive state funding, yet are exempt from any state oversight. She wants to level the playing field with other medical facilities that are subject to oversight, as well as ensure that services are up to snuff.

"When we're looking at standardizing department-wide, breaking down silos, making sure there's equality in the providers, making sure there's equality in the clinics, etc., this is one that's an outlier," Sanderson says. "I mean, they are exempt from any state oversight whatsoever."

"Well, we want to be clear that abortion clinics do not receive state funding," says Kate Brogan. Brogan is vice president of public affairs at the Family Planning Association of Maine. She says family planning services receive state funding. But not abortion clinics.

"The law requires us to be very clear about separating those two practices," Brogan says. "And they're different physicians, they're different providers, and never the twain shall meet."

Brogan says those family planning services that receive both state and federal funding do receive oversight. She says the federal family planning program conducts brief annual reviews and more in-depth reviews every three years. The findings are reported to the Maine Center for Disease Control, which oversees state family planning funding.

Credit Peter Duley / MPBN
Nicole Clegg of Planned Parenthood.

Nicole Clegg, of Planned Parenthood, says she's concerned Sanderson's bill will chip away women's access to abortions. "What we have noticed nationally is the general intent of these types of bills is to add further restrictions and make it harder for providers to offer this service," Clegg says. "And we've seen the outcome in other states where abortion providers have had to close their doors."

States like Texas, where a 2013 law required abortion clinics to meet the same standards as other surgical centers, and for abortion clinic doctors to have hospital admitting privileges. After the law passed, 35 of 42 clinics in the state of Texas closed their doors.

Andrew MacLean, of the Maine Medical Association, says there's no good reason to further regulate what is known to be one of the safest medical procedures. "These types of proposals are common from abortion opponents around the country," he says, "and I think would subject family planning clinics to a level of regulation that is unnecessary, given the medical risks involved with this procedure."

Bill sponsor Deb Sanderson insists that the intent of her bill is not to restrict abortion, that its language only removes the exemption from an inspection process at clinics.

"That's all it does. It doesn't say anything about doing away with abortion," she says. "I don't think anybody is going to overturn Roe v. Wade. I'll never vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. But, if you have a facility accessing state funds, the state ought to be able to have some oversight. Period."

Medical and pro-choice organizations say they'll examine Sanderson's bill more closely once it's printed. In the meantime, these organizations are also evaluating a bill introduced by Republican Sen. Paul Davis that would require written consent from a parent or legal guardian for a minor to receive an abortion.