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Bill to expand abortion providers in Maine gets OK in Senate

May 23, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A Democratic push to make it easier to get an abortion in Maine gained ground Thursday as the Senate passed a bill to allow nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse-midwives to perform the procedure.

The Senate voted 19-16 Thursday to support the bill. Such advanced clinicians could provide abortion medication and in-clinic abortions, which typically involve suction.

The bill faces another round of procedural action in both chambers before it would head to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who brought it forward.

Maine could become the second state after California with a law allowing non-doctors to perform abortions, according to Maine’s Office of Policy and Legal Analysis. Nearly two dozen states, including Vermont and New Hampshire, have expanded their list of abortion medication providers following court or agency rulings.

Critics said they are concerned that some non-doctors lack the training to handle rare but major complications from abortion procedures, such as hemorrhages.

“Expanding who is allowed to perform an abortion does not expand the safety of the procedure,” said Republican Sen. Stacey Guerin.

Democratic Sen. Heather Sanborn said that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants, she said, testified that Maine’s decades-old restriction allowing only physicians to perform abortions is outdated.

“We heard their distress: They can’t meet the needs of their patients,” Sanborn said. “Instead they have to send them to a provider in another city they don’t know for care they would offer if it were not for this single outdated restriction in Maine law.”

Maine has faced lawsuits from advocacy groups and abortion clinics over its abortion provider restrictions, as well as its ban on state Medicaid funds for abortions.

Democrats with newfound power over both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion have moved this year to remove both restrictions.

At least 18 states safeguard abortion rights in state law or their constitution, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. Maine passed a 1993 law that protects a “woman’s exercise of her private decision to terminate a pregnancy before viability.”

Legislation to allow state funding for abortions for Medicaid recipients has won support so far in the House and Senate. Now that bill — which has an estimated $375,000 annual price tag — is in the hands of the Legislature’s appropriations committee as it decides which bills to fund this year.

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