Abortion, reproductive rights debate slated for this afternoon


AUGUSTA, Maine — A group of doctors, health care professionals and lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle on Tuesday urged a legislative committee to reject several bills that they claim will limit women’s access to abortions.

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will consider three abortion-related bills on Tuesday afternoon.

One measure, LD 116, would require women to wait at least 24 hours from their initial visit before having an abortion except in emergency situations. LD 924, meanwhile, would require women seeking an abortion be given written materials describing the risks of the procedure, scientific information about the fetus and information on other options.

The third bill, LD 1457, would require minors to receive parental consent before having an abortion.

Dr. Betsy Weiss, the medical director of the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor, said women make tough decisions regarding pregnancy thoughtfully and carefully. Lawmakers need to trust Maine women to make the right decisions for themselves and their families, she said.

“My job is to provide complete information, therapeutic options and to facilitate a person’s care without judgment and with compassion,” Weiss said. “There is no place for government to regulate that conversation. There is no place for government in the room.”

Dr. Robert Walker, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Blue Hill, cautioned against taking steps that could return Maine to the “dark days” when women took risks with their health because access to safe abortion procedures has been reduced.

Abortion opponents are hoping for legislative success this session under the new GOP majority in the State House and with Republican Gov. Paul LePage in the Blaine House. But three Republican lawmakers who spoke at Tuesday’s press conference illustrate that the bills likely will still face a stiff fight in Augusta despite the political changes.

Rep. Stacey Allen Fitts, R-Pittsfield, recounted how one of his own family members was nearly coerced by her parents to get an abortion that she did not want. So Fitts said there are reasons to protect the rights of young women who, for one reason or another, do not feel comfortable talking to her parents about their pregnancy.

“What business is it of the state to intervene in a process that is a family issue?” Fitts said. “If that relationship is strained enough, then maybe we ought to consider that it is important for the state to stay out of it and offer her alternatives.”

Public hearings on the three abortion-related bills are slated to begin at 1 p.m. in the Health and Human Services Committee. The hearings can be heard live online on the state’s website at http://www.maine.gov/legis/audio/health_cmte.html.

Reproduced with permission from the Bangor Daily News.