Maine Senate joins House in supporting greater access to abortions

Jun 27, 2023, 10:32 AM

Demonstrators opposed to a bill to expand abortion access gather in the halls of the Maine State Ho...

Demonstrators opposed to a bill to expand abortion access gather in the halls of the Maine State House on Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in Augusta, Maine. The Maine Senate voted to expand abortion access Tuesday following an emotional debate, advancing a proposal that would give the state one of the least restrictive abortion laws in the country. (AP Photo/David Sharp)

(AP Photo/David Sharp)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The Maine Senate voted to expand abortion access Tuesday following an emotional debate, advancing a proposal that would give the state one of the least restrictive abortion laws in the country.

The 21-13 vote lacked the 11th-hour hustle to ensure support that happened before the bill was narrowly approved late last week in the House. Two more votes were needed, one in the House and one in the Senate, to enact the bill.

Demonstrators opposed to the bill later sang hymns, held signs and chanted “kill the bill!” in the hallways.

Current state law bans abortions after a fetus becomes viable outside the womb, at roughly 24 weeks, unless a mother’s life is at risk. The bill would allow abortions any time before birth if deemed medically necessary by a doctor.

Supporters said the change was necessary in heartbreakingly rare circumstances when fatal anomalies are discovered later in a pregnancy.

“How do we legislate the unimaginable?” said Sen. Jill Dusan, D-Portland. “We do so by making sure that those who face the unimaginable have the freedom they need to make the decision that is right for them.”

But Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, said changes were unnecessary to the current law that he co-sponsored years ago and was signed into law by then-Republican Gov. John McKernan.

“This bill represents a fundamental shift from the uneasy consensus we’ve had in Maine for the past 30 years,” he said.

The Senate vote came days after the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that women don’t have a constitutional right to an abortion, returning authority to the states.

The measure sailed through the Democratic-controlled Senate, unlike in the House where Democrats took an hourslong break and held the original vote open for 45 minutes before the measure passed 74-72. Republicans were angered over the tactics, but that Senate debate was civil.

The abortion bill was nonetheless contentious.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said during her reelection campaign that she was content with the existing abortion law, but she unveiled a proposal to expand abortion access in January in response to the case of a woman who had to travel to Colorado for an abortion after discovering 32 weeks into her pregnancy that her baby would not survive outside the womb.

Opponents feared that the governor’s bill would allow abortions to become rampant and that healthy babies that were viable outside the womb would be aborted.

Bishop Robert Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland called the bill “immoral” and said it went against the wishes of hundreds of Mainers who testified against it at a 19-hour public hearing.

“This measure eliminates any protections for children who cannot speak for themselves but will suffer because of it,” he said in a statement. He said abortion supporters bowed to “whispers of special interests.”

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, sponsor of the governor’s bill, was targeted over the weekend with anti-abortion flyers calling her a “baby killer” and chalk messages left outside her Portland home.

Portland police launched an investigation and the Christian Civic League of Maine condemned the tactics.


Follow David Sharp on Twitter @David_Sharp_AP

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Maine Senate joins House in supporting greater access to abortions