The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee heard more than six hours of often emotional testimony Thursday about three bills that, despite the earnest intentions of their sponsors, would wrongly elevate government’s role in private decisions women make about their reproductive health. The committee correctly recommended Friday that all three bills ought not pass.
Pro-life advocates presented one of the bills, LD 760, sponsored by Republican Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester, as a way to ensure that a woman’s decision to have an abortion reflects “informed consent.” Maine law currently requires an attending physician who discusses abortion procedures with a woman to tell her the number of weeks elapsed from the time of conception and the risks associated with an abortion. If the woman asks, the physician will share information about alternatives to abortion. A woman’s written consent is required before she can have an abortion.
Espling’s bill would mandate that physicians talk to women about abortion alternatives, even if they do not ask to do so. It also would require physicians to provide “the name of the physician performing the abortion, scientifically accurate information about the fetus and the father’s liability for support.” Espling proposed a change Friday that would have required a doctor to show a woman an ultrasound if she asked before making a decision.
These measures are unnecessary. They constitute an inappropriate intrusion of the political debate about abortion into the doctor-patient relationship at a time when trust is essential. Adding these extra bureaucratic requirements denigrates both a woman’s decision-making abilities and a physician’s professionalism.
And who would determine the nature of “scientifically accurate information” about the fetus that would be shared with a woman at a time when she’s reaching out for help? A doctor, not the Maine Legislature, is best equipped to determine the healthiest way to converse with a woman gathering information about whether to have an abortion.
A second bill, LD 1339, sponsored by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, aims to repeal Maine’s law concerning consent requirements for a minor or incapacitated person seeking an abortion. Proponents argued that LD 1339 would strengthen parents’ rights, and they cited laws requiring parental consent for minors to get tattoos or go on school trips as reasonable comparisons.
They’re not. Being forced to seek permission to explore having an abortion from the person who may have sexually assaulted you or that person’s spouse in no way equates to asking for an OK to visit the tattoo parlor. Maine’s current law protects the interests of minors. It does not need to be changed.
A third bill, LD 1193, as amended, would change Maine law to allow wrongful death suits on behalf of a fetus that had reached the 24th week of gestation. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, argued that the bill would align Maine’s wrongful death law with other states and is not part of a pro-life agenda. That might not be Volk’s intent, but the bill’s provision creating potential “heirs and an estate” for a fetus would establish a troubling precedent.
The difficult decision about whether to have an abortion is not a choice that should be made based on polls, laws passed in other states or stories about other individuals’ experiences, no matter how compelling. It’s a woman’s choice, which should be made with information — but not coercion — from medical professionals and trusted loved ones.