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Bill to Allow DHHS Oversight of Abortion Clinic Licensing Rejected in Maine House

AUGUSTA, Maine - Democrats in the Maine House turned back a Republican-led effort to grant greater state oversight of the licensing of abortion clinics. The measure is modeled after a measure from Maryland, and would require the Department of Health and Human Services to set operating standards for clinics and issue licenses.

State Rep. Stacy Guerin, of Glenburn, is among the House Republicans who describe themselves as abortion opponents. Until the law is changed, Guerin says the least the least the state can do is ensure that those procedures are safe.

"All of my adult life, I have heard from the pro-abortion supporters that they want abortions to be safe," Guerin said. 'Safety, safety - that's what they always say. So here is your chance for safer abortions."

That chance takes the form of LD 1312, which would give the state Department of Health and Human Services a larger role in licensing the clinics. Most Republicans on the House side are in support, citing the safety. But Rep. Charlotte Warren, a Hallowell Democrat, says that's not the real motive here.

"The truth is that LD 1312 has nothing to do with patient care," Warren said. "Proposals like LD 1312 are designed by politicians - not doctors - to shut down clinics and to end access to safe legal abortion."

The bill was sponsored by GOP Rep. Debbie Sanderson, of Chelsea, who says there are plenty of reasons why those concerned with access to abortion services should be supporting her bill. She says the measure would ensure that abortion clinics are operating under the same rules as every other outpatient, surgical facility, and that they provide safeguards which are currently not required in Maine.

"Regardless of how safe abortions are reported to be, as with any procedure complications can happen," Sanderson said. "Requiring clinics to have an emergency plan, emergency equipment and protocol outlining anesthetic risk evaluations and discharge planning is not unreasonable."

But Democrats say Sanderson's bill is similar to a wave of  legislation that's being proposed across the country - and which targets abortion providers through burdensome requirements in 27 states. They claim that similar legislation in Texas resulted in the closure of 32 clinics. And Democratic Rep. Joyce McCreight, of Harpswell, says the bill's supporters are trying to turn back the clock on a woman's right to choose.

"What this bill would do is place us in a position of interfering with decisions that belong between a woman and her medical professional - not between a woman and her legislator," McCreight said. "Imagine yourself in this situation. Who do you want making medical decisions in partnership with you? What this bill would do is cause safe, high-quality, needed health centers to close. What this bill would do is restrict access to legal safe abortion."

The bill was voted down 84-65 in the House and will next be taken up in the Republican-controlled Maine Senate.