Susan Pritchard of Searsport, left, and Beverly Boudreau of Gray watch as legislators and staff leave the House of Representatives at the State House in Augusta on Thursday. Abortion opponents gathered at the State House because the Judiciary Committee was holding a work session on a bill that would legalize abortion later in pregnancy if deemed medically necessary by a licensed physician. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Democrats pushed Gov. Janet Mills’ later-in-pregnancy abortion bill through committee Friday over the heated objections of outnumbered Republicans in a last-minute 7-3 vote, moving Maine one step closer to adopting one of the nation’s most progressive abortion laws.

The bill, L.D. 1619, would allow abortions with a licensed doctor’s approval after the 24-week window, which is typically when a fetus becomes viable outside the womb. Current state law allows for later-in-pregnancy abortions only when the life or health of the mother is at risk.

Gov. Janet Mills speaks during a press conference about new legislation to protect abortion rights in Maine on January 17. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“The decision to have an abortion is deeply personal and should be made by a patient and their medical provider,” said House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland. “This legislation will affirm that and ensure that medical providers can offer their patients the care they need, when they need it.”

Talbot Ross, who introduced the bill on behalf of Mills, said the bill would help address the “physical, emotional, psychological and financial burden for some Mainers who would have to leave the state to access the care they need under current law.”

Republicans claim the bill is extreme, allowing abortions up to birth without any limits on when an abortion can be performed on a viable fetus. They say most Mainers oppose it, noting the hundreds of anti-abortion advocates who packed the 19-hour public hearing on the bill last month.

“We can only hope and pray that members of the House and Senate respond to the overwhelming public reaction to this proposal and reject it,” House Republicans said in a statement issued after the vote. “Maine’s people have spoken; it is up to all lawmakers to listen.”


Rep. Matt Moonen, D-Portland, introduced an amendment Friday intended to address fears of third-trimester abortions on demand. As amended, the bill requires the approving physician to apply “the applicable standard of care” when approving a post-viability abortion.

“There was some question raised about, you know, what does that mean, and are there any parameters around the judgment of a physician?” Moonen said after the vote. “This doesn’t allow abortion in any circumstance, just because a doctor says, in my judgment, this is what should happen.”

The Maine Medical Association had warned lawmakers against trying to write a law that dictates how a medical professional should handle complex healthcare issues such as abortion because the medical field is constantly evolving and every patient’s situation is unique.

David Clinard of Oakland holds a replica of a fetus at seven months, right, and Kelly Danielson of Buckfield holds a sign opposing LD 1619 outside the House of Representatives at the State House on Thursday as legislators and staff leave the chamber. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Moonen’s amendment follows MMA advice to rely on the state’s professional licensing board to police the matter of whether a doctor has violated the “standard of care” for abortions. If so, the doctor could face discipline, lose their license to practice or be sued for malpractice, Moonen said.

But Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, said both MMA and Mills have asked lawmakers to put “legislative guardrails” in place on other medical matters, such as stricter statutory requirements for prescribing opiates. He asked why it was OK to legislate addiction issues but not abortion.

Moonen noted the amendment also tweaked the part of the bill that was intended to protect abortion providers from prosecution or professional retribution from states where abortion is banned to make sure that anyone who performs an abortion without a license will still face criminal penalties.


“The question is, should [a pregnant person] be forced to carry this pregnancy, knowing it’s going to result in a devastating outcome?” Moonen said after the vote when he summarized the amended bill. “And for those of us who voted for the bill, the answer is no.”

The substance of such a significant change to the state’s 30-year-old abortion law was sure to stoke emotions on the Judiciary Committee, which often deals with some of the most contentious political issues before the Legislature. But opponents also criticized the way the bill has been handled.

Although Mills unveiled plans for the bill in January, the bill’s actual language didn’t come out until April. At a 19-hour public hearing, many opponents were limited to one minute of public comment; supporters got two. Republicans got 85 minutes’ notice about Friday’s 11 a.m. work session.

“I need the people in the state of Maine and this committee to understand how unhappy I am with how this whole thing has been handled,” said Rep. Rachel Henderson, R-Rumford. “I know I am a new legislator, but I am not new to what is right and just.”

Brakey accused Democrats of trying to sneak the work session in when many Republican committee members couldn’t attend. Republican members walked out of the meeting Friday morning in hopes they could force the committee to reconvene when all members could attend.

However, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, appointed Sen. Jill Duson, D-Portland, to fill in for an absent Democrat, giving them the quorum needed to proceed. Duson told lawmakers she may be new to the committee, but she was not new to the issue at hand. She voted in favor of the bill.


Democrats noted this kind of thing happens at the end of a busy legislative session. Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, the Senate chair of the committee, said she understood Republicans were upset, but said Friday was the last day the committee was allowed to work on this thoroughly aired-out bill.

“We are here as a committee, we have a quorum, we have representatives of both caucuses, we have a bill that is ready to be voted on,” Carney said. “Despite the disagreements we have about the bill, it is the end of the session, we need to do our work and vote on this bill.”

House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, called these political maneuvers petty and unnecessary given the Democrats’ hefty majorities in both the House and Senate. He said Republicans will try to defeat the bill on the floor of both chambers, but admitted the odds were long.

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. That is enough to carry simple majorities in both chambers and assure the bill’s passage if all co-sponsors remain steadfast.

Faulkingham said Democrats may prevail on this bill, but he said he didn’t think it would prove to be “a winning issue” for Democrats in 2024 even though abortion access is popular among Mainers. The bill goes too far for moderates who support pre-viability abortions without question, he said.

The bill now goes to the Revisor’s Office for language reviews before heading to the House and Senate for floor votes as soon as next week.


The bill is one of the highest profile measures to be heard by the Legislature this year, in part because it is a governor’s bill but also because it drew thousands of abortion opponents out to a 19-hour public hearing that didn’t conclude until after dawn.

If this bill becomes law, Maine will join seven other states that allow later-in-pregnancy abortions for reasons other than a mother’s imminent medical risk. It would mark Maine as a defender of abortion access rights in the post-Roe era. Opponents claim it would make Maine an abortion destination.

The bill has been a legislative priority for Mills’ second term in office. She campaigned on a promise to leave Maine’s existing abortion law untouched but changed her mind after she heard heartbreaking stories of Maine women who had to leave the state to obtain post-viability abortions due to lethal fetal abnormalities. Republicans claim she reneged on her campaign promise, but Mills said voters elected her knowing she was a staunch defender of abortion access.

Abortion rights advocacy groups applauded the committee vote on Friday.

“This bill will make sure no Mainer has to leave their family and trusted medical providers and endure unnecessary physical, emotional or financial harm just to receive the medical care they need,” said Nicole Clegg, interim CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “Opponents of this bill have been vocal in their position, but their arguments are based on their personal beliefs and, personal beliefs shouldn’t dictate the decisions medical professionals make with their patients.”

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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