August 21, 2019
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Emotions simmer during latest effort to expand access to abortion in Maine

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, testified Wednesday in support of LD 820, a bill that would allow MaineCare to pay for abortion services and compel private insurance carriers to expand their pre-existing maternity health care services to cover abortion.

Dozens of people testified on Wednesday in Augusta on behalf of a bill that would allow for state taxpayer-funded abortion services and force public and private insurance providers to include abortion services in their prenatal coverage plans.

With her bill, Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, seeks to equalize access to abortion care for low-income and eligible MaineCare recipients by the mandating that the state Department of Health and Human Services cover the cost of those services. Additionally, any insurance carrier in Maine not already including coverage for those services must do so under their pre-existing maternity health care plans.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by roughly 80 Democrats and independents, does leave room for religious employers to claim exemptions, but not exemptions based on religious or differing philosophical beliefs.

“Whether you support abortion or not, it’s simply wrong to create barriers by imposing selective insurance coverage for the safe, legal procedure,” McCreight told the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee on Wednesday. “What such policies mean is that we are restricting those with lower income from accessing the care that is available to those with higher incomes,” she said.

[Maine Democrats are stepping up their advocacy for abortion access]

Emotions in the State House complex simmered. Many opponents in their testimonies took issue with the moral implications of the bill, saying they didn’t want to subsidize such an act.

Others, including Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, questioned the bill’s wider benefit. She called it “yet another payout from the hardworking Mainers for something that does nothing to strengthen the economic or social structure of our state.”

Others equated the state-funded proposal with a plastic surgery procedure; Rep. John DeVeau, R-Caribou, said it would be like “funding somebody who wants bigger boobs or a larger penis.”

But proponents, including women who have had abortions, decried the stigma that still accompanies their choice, and shared the personal and complex emotions involved in their weighted decisions, many of which came after grim health diagnoses.

Yarmouth resident and mother Dana Peirce was in week 32 of her pregnancy in early January when she found out her son had lethal skeletal dysplasia, and he wouldn’t have been able to breathe after he was born. Unable to get a late-term abortion in Maine, Peirce and her husband traveled to Colorado for the procedure, which cost $25,000 and was not covered by her health insurance, she said.

“I can’t change what went wrong with my son, but I hope to help change how we treat women who, for whatever reason, need an abortion,” she told the committee. “Mine was a very sad situation that was made much worse by current laws.”

Maine, along with 34 other states and Washington, D.C., has adhered to the federal standard on federally funded abortion care, known as the Hyde Amendment, for more than 40 years. It ensures women access to abortion, but does not allow federal tax dollars to cover the cost of those services, except in cases of rape or incest, or if a woman’s life is threatened by her pregnancy.

The Hyde Amendment doesn’t exclude states, however, from using Medicaid funds to cover the cost of that care — an option that 15 states are currently utilizing, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and one that the Maine ACLU and the state’s abortion providers are currently challenging before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on behalf of the state’s abortion providers. The appeal has been pending for almost a year.

[Maine Family Planning to sue over new Trump abortion ‘gag rule’]

Because of this, Molly Bogart, director of government relations for DHHS, said passage of the bill would provide a “legislative solution” to the lawsuit that would “bring clarity to the issue at hand and ensure that individuals receiving MaineCare have equal access to abortion care.”

After eight years under Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who opposed expanded access, the people behind McCreight’s bill are hopeful that Democratic Gov. Janet Mills will sign the bill if it reaches her desk. Earlier this month, the governor submitted a bill that would allow medical professionals other than physicians to perform abortions and — as attorney general and as a legislator — she has been a staunch supporter of abortion rights.

Despite a better political landscape for supporters of McCreight’s bill in Maine, anti-abortion advocates can look to Republican President Donald Trump, whose administration has implemented multiple anti-abortion measuers, including new proposed domestic restrictions on referrals to clinics that perform abortions. Maine Family Planning has challenged those restrictions in court.

In the coming weeks, the committee will vote on whether to recommend the bill for passage by the full Legislature.

 



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