AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House of Representatives on Wednesday opposed a contentious bill that would require abortion clinics to meet new licensing requirements.
Proponents of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, said the measure was meant only to protect patient safety at clinics operated by groups such as Planned Parenthood. Critics, however, said the bill was meant to impose onerous, unnecessary regulations that would force abortion clinics to close their doors.
The bill was defeated in an 84-65 vote.
LD 1312, “An Act to License Outpatient Surgical Abortion Facilities,” required that the Department of Health and Human Services adopt rules to ensure “reasonable operational and safety standards” for the clinics.
Currently in Maine, physicians who perform abortions at Planned Parenthood and other clinics are licensed and overseen by the state Board of Medicine, which conducts investigations when complaints arise.
Sanderson said that she did not intend to restrict abortion access, and that it didn’t make sense for the state to license tattoo parlors and tanning salons but not abortion clinics.
“Regardless of what you believe or think about the availability of abortion services, they are legal, and they are here to stay,” she said during a floor debate in the House. “While a woman or a couple grapples with this decision, the one thing they should never, ever have to worry about is whether the providing clinic they choose to utilize is clean and safe.”
Sanderson has said she wanted the state to emulate a system of safety and operational regulations produced in Maryland with bipartisan support, but the bill she crafted included no such direction, instead opting to leave the details of the new regulatory system to Department of Health and Human Services staff.
The bill would affect all three nonprofit organizations that provide abortions at outpatient clinics in Maine: Planned Parenthood, Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center and Maine Family Planning. As drafted, Sanderson’s bill exempts physicians’ offices from the new standards, even though abortions are routinely performed at those facilities as well.
Reproductive rights groups and Democrats said they feared the bill was an attempt to replicate the experience of Texas, where restrictive new regulations crafted to apply only to abortion clinics caused more than three-quarters of the state’s clinics to shut their doors for good.
“We all want women to be safe. The good news is abortion is already incredibly safe,” said Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, a former associate director of the Maine Women’s Lobby. “LD 1312 has nothing to do with patient care. Proposals like this are designed by politicians, not doctors, to shut down clinics and end access to safe abortion.”
Sanderson’s bill faces further action in the Senate, where a GOP majority may give it a warmer reception than it received in the House. But given the strong opposition in the lower chamber, its failure is all but guaranteed.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.