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Bill Would Allow Maine Families to File Wrongful Death Lawsuits for Fetuses

Mal Leary
Maine Public/file
State Rep. Ellie Espling, at a State House news conference in June of 2015.

The Maine Legislature is considering a bill that would allow legal action be taken for the wrongful death of a fetus. The measure is similar to legislation in other states, but opponents, including abortion rights advocates, say it will infringe on a woman’s right to control her own health.

The proposal sets viability at 24 weeks, and would allow parents to file a wrongful death suit for actions leading to the death of a fetus over that age. State Rep. Ellie Espling, a Republican from New Gloucester, is sponsor of the bill.

“It is not about abortion as opponents will say, this is not assigning personhood. This is asking for a woman, a family, who has had something taken from them to collect damages,” she says.

Espling stresses that the bill does not allow a suit to be filed against the mother or a health care provider performing an abortion at the request of the mother.

Trish Moran of the Maine Right to Life Committee told lawmakers that state law does make it a crime if an assault on a pregnant woman results in the loss of the child. But she says it does not provide for the woman or her family to sue for their loss.

“Federal law and Maine state law protect women who choose abortion,” she says. “Women deserve equal protection under the law for choosing to give life.”

Several women’s advocacy groups testified in opposition to the bill, warning that it’s an attack on a woman’s fundamental right to choose to have an abortion. Farmington doctor Connie Adler testified on behalf of the Maine Medical Association.

“I urge you to reject LD 327 because it is based on bad science,” she says. “It would result in fewer options for quality obstetrical care for women and because it could be used to infringe on women’s right to control her own health.”

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills also opposes the legislation. She told the committee that it could have unintended consequences, expanding the threat of liability to certain sectors of the workforce.

“Medical professionals could be exposed to a larger extent; workplace supervisors of all sorts could be liable to a greater extent. Retailers and sellers of items that might cause harm to a fetus would be potentially liable to a greater extent,” she says.

The committee will now consider the legislation, and any possible changes, before sending it to the full Legislature. With a month to go before the statutory deadline for the session to end, the committee is under pressure to report all legislation out of committee quickly.