Democrats kill bills that would have given rights to fetuses, changed abortion requirements

Posted May 17, 2013, at 1:03 p.m.
Last modified May 18, 2013, at 10:40 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Two abortion-related bills and a third giving legal rights to fetuses, which drew more than six hours of public testimony Thursday, were rejected Friday by a majority of lawmakers on the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

For the most part, Democrats said little during the work session before seven of the party’s eight members on the committee voted to recommend against the three bills, which the majority party saw as efforts to limit reproductive choice in Maine. Four of five Republicans on the committee voted in support of each measure.

LD 760, An Act Regarding Informed Consent to an Abortion, would require doctors and health care workers to provide information about alternatives to abortion and remove a requirement in current law that the woman request the information to receive it.

Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, said the testimony of two people on Thursday who said they they had decided against abortions without much time to spare made an impression.

“Someone went right up to the wire to have an abortion and for some various reasons they chose not to,” said Burns. “They were able to get more information and have time to think and get informed on the issue. Because those circumstances were in place, we have two lives.”

Rep. Stacey K. Guerin, R-Glenburn, rejected arguments that were made Thursday by opponents of the bill that it was meant to shame or coerce women considering abortions.

“There’s no possible way we are trying to hurt anyone,” said Guerin. “We’re trying to help them make a good decision.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, offered a compromise Friday that would have made the bill’s only stipulation be that a woman could view an ultrasound, if one was taken, before making a decision about having an abortion.

“One of the key components was to ensure a woman’s undeniable right to see her ultrasound,” Susan Leighton of Maine Right to Life said by phone Friday. “I would have hoped there was a greater spirit of compromise.”

After all the votes were collected Friday afternoon, the tally was 8-5 in favor of an “ought not to pass” recommendation to the Legislature. Those voting against that recommendation included Burns, Guerin, Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, Rep. Anita Peavey Haskell, R-Milford, and Democratic Sen. John Tuttle of Sanford. On the other side were the committee’s Democrats plus Rep. Michael Beaulieu, R-Auburn.

The vote on LD 1339, An Act to Strengthen the Consent Laws for Abortions Performed on Minors and Incapacitated Persons, was the same. It would repeal the state’s law concerning consent for a minor’s abortion and require written consent of a parent or legal guardian before a minor or incapacitated person could have an abortion.

“You need a permission slip to take a school trip to the capitol but in some instances you don’t need one for an abortion,” said Crockett.

Critics of the bill argued that it would make it more difficult for minors who had be sexually assaulted by a family member to terminate an unwanted pregnancy resulting from that assault.

A third bill considered Friday, LD 1193, An Act to Allow a Wrongful Death Cause of Action for the Death of an Unborn Child, garnered a closer vote. It would have given legal rights to fetuses that reached 12 weeks of gestation, though Republicans attempted to amend the age limit to 24 weeks.

“Both Massachusetts and Vermont have legislation like this,” said Crockett. “I think it’s reasonable.”

The “ought not to pass” recommendation came from a 7-6 vote. Guerin, Burns, Tuttle, Crockett, Beaulieu and Peavey Haskell voted in the minority.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine supported the committee’s majority votes, largely because they said most of the goals of the proposals are already in Maine law.

“We applaud the committee for standing up for women’s health and rejecting these three bad bills, which are very clearly aimed at chipping away at abortion rights,” said Shenna Bellows, the organization’s executive director. “The government should not be placing added burdens and pressures on women as they make these difficult and personal decisions.”

Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said her vote followed the majority of opinions expressed during a marathon session on Thursday.

“The Judiciary Committee heard overwhelming testimony against all three bills by physicians, psychiatrists, attorneys, and men and women who deal with these issues every day,” said Valentino in a written statement. “They told us time and time again that the current protections in the state of Maine should not be changed and that these bills were unnecessary.”

The bills now move to the full Legislature for further consideration. Similar legislation failed during the previous Legislature, in which Republicans held majorities in the House and Senate.

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