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Maine AG pushes back on 'meritless' concerns about proposed shield law

Trans rights group joined the march.
Carol Bousquet
Trans rights group joined the march.

Maine's attorney general is pushing back against some of his counterparts from around the country who waded into a policy debate over health care for transgender people.  

Attorney General Aaron Frey said a letter signed Monday by 15 attorneys generalfrom other states raised "meritless" concerns about a so-called "shield law" under consideration by the Maine Legislature. He also accused the other attorneys general of attempting to intimidate supporters of a bill in Maine aimed at protecting access to gender-affirming health care for transgender individuals.

"We do have a right to disagree and I fully concur that one state cannot control another," Frey wrote Tuesday to Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti. "Recognizing these shared values, I welcome your respect for Maine's ability to decide what access to health care people in Maine receive, free from interference by out-of-state actors."

The bill, LD 227, aims to protect medical professionals in Maine from prosecution if they provide abortions or gender-affirming care to residents of other states where access to such care is restricted or prohibited. It would also allow doctors or others to counter-sue officials in other states for damages if they are targeted with investigations.

In a letter sent to Frey and Maine Gov. Janet Mills on Monday, Skrmetti and 14 other attorneys general from Republican or conservative-leaning states the proposal under consideration in Maine was unconstitutional and described it as an "ill-considered attempt to influence and intimidate officials in other states."

The group called attention to the provision allowing counter-suits, saying it could spark similar back-and-forth legal disputes between states on a host of issues. The attorneys general also pledged to "vigorously avail ourselves of every recourse our Constitution provides" to fight the bill if it becomes law in Maine.

"LD 227 seeks to contravene the lawful policy choices of our states' citizens by imposing on the rest of the country Maine's views on hotly debated issues such as gender transition surgeries for children," reads the joint letter. "The law's far-reaching provisions are unprecedented."

The highly unusual, dueling letters are part of a national legal and culture war over abortion and policies that affect transgender individuals.

Dozens of states have restricted access to abortion since the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. But many left-leaning states, including Maine, have moved in the opposition direction by expanding access to abortion and passing "shield laws" to protect both health care professionals and residents of other states who travel to receive care.

Those legal and policy fights have now extended to access to care for transgender individuals.

In his response letter to Skrmetti, Frey pointed out that one of the other signatories to the original letter, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, had demanded that a hospital in Washington state provide medical records as part of an investigation over the hospital's provision of gender-affirming care to a Texas resident. Frey said similar demands had been sent to a clinic in Georgia as well.

The bill under consideration in Maine would prohibit medical professionals or health care companies from sharing such documents unless required to under federal law. Opponents of the bill, meanwhile, contend it will weaken parental consent for minors seeking gender-affirming care.

"This is not unprecedented, as at least 17 states and the District of Columbia have already enacted similar 'shield laws' to protect their health care providers from aggressive actions by objecting states," Frey wrote. "Our Republic endures. Unfortunately, shield laws have become necessary due to efforts in some objecting states to punish beyond their borders lawful behavior that occurs in Maine and other states."

The original letter sent to Frey, Mills and Democratic legislative leaders was signed by the attorneys general from Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, Montana, Idaho, Nebraska, Indiana, Oklahoma, Iowa, South Carolina, Kansas, Texas, Kentucky and West Virginia.