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Maine supreme court weighs MaineCare abortion coverage ban

May 16, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A civil liberties attorney told supreme court justices Wednesday that the state is “putting its thumb on the scale of a highly personal decision” by funding care for low-income pregnant women while refusing to pay if they elect to terminate their pregnancies.

But the state attorney general’s litigation chief told justices that there’s no obligation for taxpayers to fund abortions even though women have a right to the procedure.

“A woman’s fundamental right to choose an abortion does not carry with it the right to a government-paid abortion,” said Susan Herman, citing a previous federal decision.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in the appeal of a decision that upheld the state’s decision not to fund abortions through MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

The American Civil Liberties of Maine sued the Maine Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of three abortion providers, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in Portland, Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center In Bangor, and Maine Family Planning in Augusta.

Maine is among the majority of states that follow a federal guideline known as the “Hyde Amendment,” which provides Medicaid funding for abortions only in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother’s life.

Seventeen states provide funding for abortions through state funding.

Herman pointed out that the Maine Legislature considered proposals to provide state dollars for abortions through MaineCare in 1979 and 2007.

But Chief Justice Leigh Saufley pointed out that failure of lawmakers to augment funding is not the same as legislating that no funding shall be used for abortions. She pointed out that the state provides funding that goes beyond federal Medicaid guidelines in other areas.

Zach Heiden, attorney for the ACLU of Maine, said there’s nothing in state law to prevent the state funds for abortions under MaineCare. And he said failing to provide funding violates the Maine Constitution and state’s official policy of remaining neutral on abortion.

“A woman who is pregnant is going to need medical care and she has before her two constitutionally protected, mutually exclusive options. The state funds one of those options completely, but for the other option, it tells women that they’re on their own,” he said.

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