AUGUSTA — A measure that would create new legal rights for a fetus has divided lawmakers as closely as possible.

The Senate voted 18-17 Tuesday to endorse a measure that would grant legal rights to a viable fetus, a proposal the House opposed recently by a 72-71 margin. In short, the proposal has exactly as many supporters as opponents.

Supporters said there’s nothing wrong with a bill that would allow the family of a fetus at least 24 weeks old who dies because of someone’s negligence to bring a wrongful death suit. In essence, it would establish the unborn child as a distinct legal person whose heirs and estate could sue under Maine’s probate code.

Critics, such as the American Civil Liberties of Maine, warn that approving the measure could jeopardize the rights of pregnant women and ultimately boost the cause of those who are pushing to restrict abortion rights.

But not everyone sees the bill as a proxy for the abortion issue.

“This is not about Roe v. Wade,” said pro-choice Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. “It’s about justice.”


Katz said the proposal merely grants the heirs of a fetus that dies through someone’s negligence the opportunity to sue for their loss, something already allowed in 40 states, including the rest of New England.

But Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, said the reality is that the bill “is unnecessary and dangerous,” following the lead of other proposals across the country by abortion foes to grant “personhood” to a fetus.

“This is a slippery slope,” she said.

Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director of the ACLU, said after the Senate vote this week that lawmakers have “put the rights of the fetus before the rights of the woman.”

Though the measure would bar anyone from suing the mother, a health care provider performing a legal abortion with consent or medical practitioners who didn’t know of the pregnancy, critics said they’re worried that doctors could wind up getting sued.

After the Senate’s vote, the proposal heads back to the House for possible reconsideration.

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