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Abortion-Related Bills Draw Fire from Maine Women's Groups

Patty Wight
Judy Karhl of Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights testifies Wednesday against two abortion-related bills Maine lawmakers are considering.

AUGUSTA, Maine - The Maine Legislature is taking up several proposals that affect Maine's laws governing abortions. One bill before the Judiciary Committee this afternoon would require parental consent for teens who want an abortion. Another would establish operational and safety standards for abortion clinics.

No government can replace the love and nurturing of a parent, says Republican Sen. Paul Davis. That's why he put forth a bill that would require young women to get written consent from a parent before getting an abortion.

"Laws in Maine already require consent for minors' involvement in the the simplest activities and pursuits - field trips, sports involvement," Davis said. "The dispensing of medication as gentle as aspirin in public schools all require a parent signature."

Under current Maine law, a parent or other trusted adult such as a physician, nurse practitioner, psychologist, guidance counselor, or clergy member must be present when a teen seeks an abortion. But supporters of Davis' bill say that, more than anyone else, it's parents who have their child's best interests at heart.

Republican Rep. Mike McClellan read testimony from a 16-year-old constituent who initially hid what he describes as "a personal failure" from her parents because she was afraid of how they might react.

"And how she felt after she finally told the truth. And she said, 'I was overcome with relief. I didn't have to lie anymore. I didn't have to hide or cover up or sneak around or change the subject anymore. I felt relief - like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.' "

Credit Patty Wight / MPBN
A crowd dominated by women listens to testimony Wednesday on two abortion-related bills.

But Ruth Lockhard of the Mabel Wadsworth Women's Health Center in Bangor says expecting that positive outcome in every family is unrealistic. "Desperate teens take desperate actions that have negative consequences for their health. Teens that can't or won't talk to their parents aren't going to start because the law requires them to do so."

Another bill before lawmakers would require abortion clinics to be licensed, and directs the Department of Health and Human Services to establish reasonable operational and safety standards. The sponsor, Republican Rep. Deb Sanderson, says it's modeled after a Maryland law passed in 2012.

"And their intent was to make it safe access versus a restrictive access," Sanderson said. "And that's what I wanted here for Maine."

The Maryland law was prompted by a botched abortion on an 18-year-old that sent the young woman to the hospital in critical condition. The law has been hailed as a successful effort that increased safety and won support of both abortion opponents and proponents.

But representatives of Maine's three clinics that perform abortion procedures aren't convinced Sanderson's bill is purely about safety. "The reality is putting this law into place would give the Department of Health and Human Services the opportunity to come in whenever they see fit and add additional regulations," said Nicole Clegg of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. "And as we've seen in other states, there are real consequences to that."

Clegg points to laws in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas that created such difficult requirements that many, if not most, abortion clinics closed. In Texas, the number of clinics dropped from more than 40 to five.

But Rep. Deb Sanderson says she does not want to impose the brick and mortar requirements that put other states' clinics out of business. Her bill, she says, requires major substantive rules that would be approved by a legislative committee. "So they can oversee those bills, make sure the department has not gone beyond that scope of licensure, for which I have intent of this bill."

But Kate Brogan of Family Planning Association of Maine, says as the bill stands, the language is too vague to know what future standards might be. She says she doesn't understand why abortion - considered a safe procedure - is being singled out. "We operate just like any other medical practice, and we don't think that just because we provide a politically-charged service that we deserve increased scrutiny."

Brogan says plenty of other procedures, including colonoscopies, oral surgery, and outpatient dermatology are potentially more dangerous than abortion, but aren't subject to the heightened oversight suggested in Sanderson's bill.