Legislature hearing packed for abortion bill

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AUGUSTA — Parents have more of a say before a child gets wisdom teeth removed than when a child seeks an abortion, lawmakers were told Tuesday at a packed hearing on bills that would add new restrictions on abortion in Maine.

But the Judiciary Committee also heard that Maine’s current policies work well and that the three bills would bring government too far into a matter that should be between a woman and her doctor.

The bills come before the first Republican-majority Legislature in decades, giving supporters new confidence they can make changes in the state’s current standards for abortion notification and consent. But others say the issue has few connections to partisan loyalties.

One of the bills up for review Tuesday would require a 24-hour waiting period prior to an abortion, except in the case of a medical emergency.

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An “informed consent” bill would require that information about the risks of abortion be made available by a doctor to a woman seeking an abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure. Also, state health officials would have to develop a brochure describing the risks and alternatives to abortion.

A third bill seeks to repeal Maine’s current adult consent law. It would require notarized written consent of a parent or legal guardian before an abortion may be performed on a minor, with some exceptions.

Maine’s current law requires pregnant girls 17 or younger to get the consent of their parents, guardians, an adult family member, judge or counselor before getting an abortion.

Supporters said requiring added notification and a waiting period before a procedure that will have lifelong consequences is not unreasonable.

“Unfortunately, there is no ‘reset ‘ button with abortion,” Teresa Tumidajski of the Maine Right to Life Committee told the committee.

Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, sponsor of the adult consent bill, said more parent involvement is required for getting wisdom teeth removed — or even attending a snowboarding event — than for getting an abortion.

Concerned Women for America of Maine, a coalition of conservative women which promotes Biblical values and family traditions, supports all three bills before lawmakers.

Addressing the 24-hour notification bill, Concerned Women’s Debra Wagner said women in Maine “are hurting today because for too long we have allowed those who profit from abortions to withhold this vital information.” In her prepared testimony, Wagner urged lawmakers “to empower Maine women.”

Opponents said that in practice, notification and informed consent already take place before abortions. Joan Leitzer, a doctor and psychiatrist in Portland, also said the required government-written notification that’s proposed would contain “coercive” language slanted against abortion.

“As a physician, I have an obligation to provide scientifically and medically accurate information to my parents,” Leitzer told the committee. “I also have an ethical obligation to ensure informed consent for any, any treatment.”

Bob Walker of Blue Hill, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist who has provided abortions, warned that the three bills “are going to chip away at a woman’s right to choose.” He said that in his practice, several days usually lapsed between the time a woman requests and receives an abortion, and that alternatives to abortion were always discussed.

“We may very well go back to the Dark Ages of back alley abortions” if abortion rights are rolled back, Walker said.

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