AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers on Wednesday defeated by the narrowest margin an effort to require pregnant teens to obtain parental consent before having an abortion.
The bill went down in a 17-18 vote in the Senate, with Republicans Sens. Roger Katz of Augusta, Brian Langley of Ellsworth and Kim Rosen of Bucksport joining all 15 Senate Democrats to block its passage. The House later voted 77-67 to reject the proposal.
As amended by the Judiciary Committee, LD 83 — sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville — would have required that all girls younger than 18 years old who sought abortions would have to obtain their parent’s permission or petition a probate or district court judge, except in the case of a medical emergency.
Maine’s current law, enacted in 1989, requires underage girls who wish to terminate their pregnancy to consult with an adult parent or family member, or any one of several other qualified adults, including guidance counselors, psychologists, clergy members or physicians.
After the law was enacted, Maine’s teen abortion rate nosedived, falling 60 percent by 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a national nonprofit research and policy firm focused on reproductive health, Maine’s teen abortion rate has continued to fall.
Opponents of the bill said the current system was working and was important in protecting girls’ rights even if their families are unsupportive or would retaliate against them for having sex or, worse, girls who had been sexually abused by members of their families.
“Replacing current law with a ‘one-size-fits all’ government mandate will not help parents keep their daughters safe,” said Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “Young women who choose not to involve a parent often have very real concerns for their safety.”
The bill’s supporters said the provision for court involvement was enough to ensure that a girl who could not go to her parents had another option. However, they said that in most cases, families should be involved in teens’ decisions regarding pregnancy.
“This is about fixing a law that makes parental law a mere option,” said Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon.
“Families are most often, not always, in the best position to provide that support. It’s about working with families, not against them,” said Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough.
Advocates for women’s access to abortion breathed a sigh of relief after the bill was defeated.
“It was a very close vote [in the Senate],” said Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, in an interview after the vote. “We were all watching very, very closely. The issues, as we saw in the debate, are deeply emotional. For that reason, we were concerned, and yet we have an existing statute that works well and has been working for decades.”
LD 83 was one of two bills monitored by groups such as the Maine Women’s Lobby for having the potential to affect women’s access to abortion. The other, a bill by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, would have opened the state’s nonprofit abortion clinics up to new regulations that advocates feared would force the clinics to shut their doors. That bill was killed in the Senate last week.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.