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Hearings on Abortion Bills Draw Big Crowds to Augusta
05/16/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Several abortion bills drew standing room only crowds to the State House today - in fact, crowds spilled over into hallways, and even into other rooms. Two of the measures would seek to add new consent requirements for those seeking an abortion. Another would allow certain family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit when a viable unborn fetus dies. Patty Wight has more on the reaction to those bills at today's public hearings.

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Hearings on Abortion Bills Draw Big Crowds to Augu Listen

Right now, if a woman wants to get an abortion in Maine, the attending physician must get her written consent, tell her how old the fetus is, and explain the risks she faces. If the woman requests it, the doctor must also to let her know about alternatives to abortion.

A bill before lawmakers in Augusta would require the doctor to explain alternatives, whether the woman asks or not. The sponsor is Republican Rep. Ellie Espling. "This is about right to know," she said. "This is about women having all of the information they need to make this important decision in their lives, and not being denied any access to that information."

But Judy Chamberlain, a family practitioner from Brunswick, says while she's always happy to discuss alternatives to abortion, there are times when such discussions are not appropriate.

"I can't imagine, for example, having to counsel a couple who sought abortion because their baby was severely deformed and would not survive outside the mother's womb, about alternatives, including adoption," she said. "And also being required to go into detail, even scientifically accurate detail, about her fetus, as LD 760 would require."

Another bill up for hearing would require a minor to get written permission from a parent or guardian. Margaret Yates, a nurse and member of the Maine Right to Life Committee, says good law should support the parent-child relationship.

"For most teenagers, parents are advocates for their children, and they're the best long-term advocate," she says. "There's no agency that is there to support or work with them in the aftermath of their experience. And therefore a parent should be involved."

But Ruth Lockhart, executive director of the Mabel Wadsworth Women's Health Center in Bangor, is among those who oppose the parental consent bill. She says most teens do involve their parents in such a decision. But she says some parental relationships are unhealthy or abusive, and in those cases, the requirement could cause harm.

"I came of age before Roe v. Wade. I learned then that desperate teens take desperate actions: herbs, lye, coathangers," she said. "I fear greatly what would happen if you pass LD 1339. Teens that can't, or won't, talk to their parents aren't going to start talking to their parents because the law requires them to do so."

A third bill considered by the Judiciary Committee would give legal status to a fetus at 12 weeks old. That legal status would mean that if a pregnant woman were, say, injured by a drunk driver and lost the baby, family members would file a wrongful death suit on behalf of the unborn baby. Susan Leighton of Maine Right to Life says 40 other states have similar laws, and it's time for Maine to follow.

"Maine, state, and federal laws protect women who choose abortion," she said. "Maine women who choose life for their unborn babies deserve equal protection under the law."

While this bill doesn't address abortion directly, opponents, like Kate Brogan of the Family Planning Association of Maine, say, ultimately, the law is a vehicle to erode that right.

"If fetuses are granted legal standing under the law, then the law must begin to weigh the comparative rights and interests of a pregnant woman and her fetus," she said. "This opens the door for unlimited interference in the privacy and freedom of pregnant women."

Brogan says it could open up abortion providers to lawsuits. And in the case of a wrongful death due to something like domestic violence, Brogan says existing laws allow elevated sentencing for the death of an unborn child.


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