Dana Peirce of Yarmouth is comforted by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, left, and Zoe Reich after testifying about her experience with having an abortion later in pregnancy during a hearing of the Judiciary Committee at the State House in Augusta on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — A public hearing on proposals to expand access to abortion in Maine continued through the night and did not end until after 7 a.m. Tuesday – 19 hours after it started.

Hundreds of Maine people signed up to testify in person as a crowd of more than 2,000 people packed the State House complex Monday to support or oppose a slate of bills that would increase abortion access in Maine, including Gov. Janet Mills’ proposal to legalize abortion later in pregnancy if deemed necessary by a licensed doctor.

The in-person testimony began at noon Monday and continued through the evening and into the night. Then the people who waited to testify online got their turn. The hearing was not only extremely long, it also was intensely emotional.

Zoe Reich of Portland urged lawmakers to endorse Mills’ bill to expand abortion access so nobody else would have to do what she had been forced to do: spend thousands to fly halfway across the country to get an abortion after a later-in-pregnancy scan revealed heartbreaking fetal abnormalities.

“I was denied critical abortion care when I needed it because of a cruel and arbitrary time line set by politicians, not doctors,” Reich said. “It doesn’t have to be this way. Abortion is health care. All Mainers should have the freedom to get the health care they need, when they need it, right here at home.”

Opponents said Mills’ bill is too radical and vague. They urged lawmakers to stick with Maine’s current abortion law, which limits abortion beyond the 24-week window, which is about when a fetus becomes viable outside the womb, to situations when the life or health of the mother is at risk.


“As a historically pro-bodily autonomy voter, the pushing of the window is appalling to me,” said Lauren Knebel of Cape Elizabeth. “If this bill passes, where would the line then be drawn on when this procedure becomes murder? Why is a week to a month before birth not murder, but a week or a month after is?”

More than 700 people signed up to provide face-to-face testimony on Mills’ bill: about 65 in favor and about 650 in opposition. More queued to deliver online testimony. Capitol police said 2,200 people passed through the State House metal detector on Monday.

Mills’ bill is the most high-profile of five abortion bills heard Monday. Other bills proposed to eliminate abortion insurance co-payments, ban local preemption of state abortion laws, protect providers who treat patients from states with abortion bans, and require abortion care to continue after hospital mergers.

A hearing on a bill to enshrine the right to bodily autonomy in the Maine Constitution was postponed.

While most bills are allowed just 10 co-sponsors, Mills’ proposal, L.D. 1619, has a whopping 75 House co-sponsors and 20 Senate co-sponsors, all Democrats or independents, which combine to represent a simple majority of both chambers. That is enough to assure passage if all co-sponsors remain steadfast.

Michaela Gladu, of Orrington, was one of hundreds of people who testified at the State House on Monday against Gov. Janet Mills’ proposal to make Maine’s abortion law one of the least restrictive in the nation. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The bill was presented by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, who spoke Monday of Maine lawmakers’ need to meet the challenges posed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which is unfairly hurting people of color, the poor, and those living in rural areas.


“Faced with this stark reality, Maine leaders have an obligation to meet this moment and do all we can to protect the rights, freedoms, health and safety of Mainers,” she said. “This legislation is compassionate. It is bound by science and best medical practices, and it recognizes abortion as health care.”


Talbot Ross bristled when Republican members of the Judiciary Committee asked her to define exactly when a licensed physician might deem abortion to be necessary, the post-viability threshold laid out in Mills’ bill. They asked if such broad discretion opened the door to last-minute abortion on demand.

Talbot Ross called some questions out of order, refusing to answer, and dubbed others inflammatory.

“It is impossible to legislate for all instances in which someone might need access to abortion later in pregnancy,” Talbot Ross said. “States that have tried have failed and instead caused greater harm. This is why the language in L.D. 1619 is clear. It puts medical decisions in the hands of doctors and patients.”

She repeatedly told lawmakers: “We, as legislators, should not be making these decisions.”


The proceeding, which was expected to last until late in the night, was mostly an orderly affair, however. Some people who testified did so through tears. Others quoted religious verses or shared heartbreaking stories of their own abortions.

Lawmakers tussled over the order of speakers (all in favor of the bill spoke first, followed by opponents), the number of questions committee members got (only one), and the amount of time people could speak (cut from 3 minutes to 2 as a nod to the sheer number of people who signed up).

Then at 10 p.m., the Democratic heads of the committee told the crowd of 500 or so opponents still waiting in the State House to testify that they would now only have a minute to deliver face-to-face testimony. Some had been waiting to speak since 7:30 a.m.

All of the bill’s 65 or so supporters got two minutes each to address the committee.

Committee co-chair Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, apologized for the change, but she said the committee would be there for another 16 hours if all remaining opponents had two minutes to speak – four hours after the Legislative session reconvenes at 10 a.m. Tuesday.



Outside the hearings, anti-abortion advocates watched the proceedings on televisions spread around the State House, taking breaks to hold rallies and prayer circles and make coffee runs. Those advocating for increased abortion access held a news conference with Mills in her cabinet room.

“You will hear today that this bill is ‘abortion on demand’ or ‘abortion up until birth,’ ” Mills said. “These claims are not true. The truth is that no doctor is performing abortions up until the moment of birth and no pregnant women are just waking up suddenly and asking for them.”

Mills cited statistics that show nearly all Maine abortions – 92 percent – occur during the first trimester.

“You will also hear today that this bill is ‘extreme,’ ‘gruesome,’ ‘depraved,’ ‘barbaric,’ or even ‘evil,’ ” Mills said. “What is extreme is forcing a woman to give birth to a child who is going to immediately die. What is extreme is forcing a woman to leave her state to seek care.”

Hundreds of abortion opponents listen to Dr. Thomas Page, an OB/GYN at Central Maine Medical Center, during a rally on the second floor of the State House in Augusta on Monday, when legislators heard testimony on a number of bills that would expand access to abortion. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Judiciary Committee will next hold a work session on the merits of the proposal, but unless one of the co-sponsors changes their mind, that will all be a formality. The best shot for Republicans to stop it will be in the House, where Mills will need all co-sponsors and Ross to tip the scale her way.

The seven House Democrats who didn’t co-sponsor: Mana Abdi, of Lewiston; William Bridgeo, of Augusta; Michel LaJoie, of Lewiston; Anne Perry, of Calais; Joseph Perry, of Bangor; Ronald Russell, of Bucksport; and Bruce White, of Waterville.


Mills has said she was inspired to propose her legislation by the story of a Maine woman, Dana Peirce of Falmouth, who had to fly to Colorado to end her 32-week pregnancy after a scan revealed a rare, painful and fatal genetic mutation.

Peirce told lawmakers on Monday that her sad situation was made much worse by Maine’s current law.

“You have an opportunity to make sure no other Maine families have to go through what mine did,” she told committee members through tears. “Abortion for any reason is a deeply personal decision, one that should be left to pregnant people and their medical team.”

The bill does not include any specific conditions or limitations but leaves the decision up to the patient and physician about what circumstances would make abortion necessary. It removes criminal penalties for doctors performing later-in-pregnancy abortions.

Opponents argue that Mills’ bill is too broad and could legalize later-in-pregnancy abortions that do not involve fetal anomalies. Stories such as Peirce’s are heartbreaking, they say, but could be addressed by expanding the post-viability exemption list.

“This abortion bill is so extreme,” said Natalie Salavarria of Kenduskeag, a registered nurse who worked for 30 years in a neonatal intensive care unit. “We have made great advancements in the care of prematurely born babies and I have personally witnessed the birth, growth and development of countless babies, some as young in their development as 25 weeks of gestation. The miracle of life is not something that can be ignored, nor should it be in man’s hand to snuff it out.”



But Connie Adler of Bath, a recently retired 30-year veteran of women’s medicine, told lawmakers that they would be smart to stay out of this discussion altogether and leave it to medical doctors to sort out. Best medical practices change fast, she said – it’s hard for doctors to keep up, much less the Legislature.

“Patients and providers often have difficult conversations and make plans based on numerous biological and ethical variables,” Adler said. “Government does not interfere when that discussion is about cancer treatment, hospice care, surgery and it should not interfere in reproductive health care.”

As for abortion of viable fetuses on demand just before birth – a scenario that Republicans raised during questions repeatedly – Adler said doctors would no sooner abort a healthy viable fetus for no reason than they would cut off a patient’s foot for no reason.

Shannon Carr of Bristol, a certified OBGYN who provides later-in-pregnancy abortion care outside of Maine, said some of the small number of women who get post-viability abortions do so for reasons not related to fetal abnormalities, including domestic violence, regulatory barriers or poor mental health.

“In the very uncommon event that someone presents later in pregnancy for an abortion, I’m asking that you please try to understand that something has gone terribly wrong,” Carr said. “Something tragic has happened to the baby, something life-changing has happened in the pregnant person’s life.”


Brittany Lee of Berwick said she would have killed herself if forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy while dealing with trauma from repeated rapes during her military service. She was 22 weeks pregnant – too late to get an abortion in South Carolina, where she and her husband were stationed.

“In the end, we found one in Georgia,” Lee told lawmakers. “We had to pack up our van with the children and the dogs, drive hundreds of miles, and find a pet-friendly hotel where we could stay overnight. … My abortion was the best and most compassionate health care I have ever received.”

The Maine Medical Association tried to reassure skeptical Republicans that doctors wouldn’t perform an unnecessary abortion even though Mills’ bill would remove specific criminal penalties for doing so out of fear that they would be sanctioned or stripped of their medical license by the Maine Medical Board.

Opponents accuse Mills of reneging on her campaign pledge to leave the state abortion law alone.

After introducing the bill, Mills pushed back at critics and called it a rational, compassionate proposal that would help people like Peirce and not open any abortion floodgates. She said she didn’t break any promises – that voters knew they were electing an ardent abortion defender.

The number of people seeking abortions after the first trimester is small. In 2021, the most recent year data is available, 94% of the 1,905 abortions conducted in Maine were done within the first trimester of pregnancy, or up to 14 weeks. The remaining 107 occurred before 20 weeks.

Abortion-rights advocates note the chilling effect of Maine’s existing viability restrictions. The state law allows abortions for any reason through about 24 weeks, but doctors won’t do them after 20 weeks out of fear that imprecise gestational dating could lead to prosecution.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, which essentially made abortion a state-controlled issue, about half of the U.S. states enacted or began discussing abortion bans. In Maine, which has a strong abortion law, the issue helped Mills win a second term in November.

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