AUGUSTA — Roberta Zuckerman and her husband wanted badly to have a second child. After miscarrying, she went through fertility treatments. She got pregnant and was ecstatic.
Then she learned the fetus had trisomy 13, a chromosomal abnormality that meant the baby probably would die in its first year of life. After much thought, Zuckerman said, she and her husband chose to abort the child to spare it from suffering.
The South Portland psychotherapist told legislators Thursday if an “informed consent” bill being considered by the Legislature had been state law at the time, doctors would been required to give her information that would have made the decision even more traumatic.
“We were devastated. This was the most painful time in our lives,” Zuckerman said. “I cannot begin to imagine the unnecessary and profound trauma that would have been caused … if the doctor who performed the abortion told me the details of the procedure” as required in the bill.
However, Darcey Fraser, of Plymouth, said 17 years ago, she was about to have an abortion when she learned her 9-week-old fetus had begun developing features. She said her boyfriend supported abortion and providers suggested it, but that information saved the baby.
“When I heard my baby had fingers and toes and a beating heart, I knew I couldn’t kill her,” she said. “It’s amazing that Paije Ann Marie’s fingers and toes saved her life.”
Paije was in the committee room.
The informed-consent bill, L.D. 760, is sponsored by Rep. Eleanor Espling, R-New Gloucester, and was one of three bills that brought pro-choice and pro-life advocates to testify Thursday before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Testimony on the bills was passionate, lasting into Thursday evening.
Maine law now requires a woman be told what the procedure entails and the gestational age of the fetus before an abortion is performed. At a woman’s request, a doctor must discuss alternatives to abortion.
Espling’s bill would ensure a woman be told more information than current law requires before the procedure, including “the name of the physician performing the abortion, scientifically accurate information about the fetus and the father’s liability for support,” the bill says.
Another bill, L.D. 1339, sponsored by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, would require the “written consent of a parent or legal guardian before an abortion may be performed on a minor or an incapacitated person,” allowing consent to be given in some circumstances by a brother or sister over age 21, or a stepparent or grandparent.
Maine law now requires a pregnant girl 17 or younger to get the consent of a parent, guardian, adult family member or judge before getting an abortion.
The two bills are examples of Republican efforts to tighten abortion laws around the country, but are considered unlikely to pass in the Legislature, which has shot down similar bills in past sessions, including when Republicans controlled the majority in both chambers. Democrats have that advantage now.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage is staunchly pro-life, but his spokeswoman said he would not take a position on those bills Thursday.
A third bill debated at the hearing, L.D. 1193, is sponsored by Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, and would allow a wrongful-death lawsuit to be filed in the death of an unborn viable fetus past 12 weeks old. However, a legal abortion, the bill says, would exempt a mother and abortion provider from being sued by the fetus’s estate.
Critics of that bill noted that the science used to determine that viability mark, however, is uncertain. One of the earliest-born babies ever to survive outside the womb was born at 21 weeks, according to a University of Iowa database tracking the earliest-born babies. Volk said she is considering amending that portion of the bill to 24 weeks.
Pro-choice groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, called all the bills “anti-choice,” saying most minors who get abortions in Maine come to clinics with their parents and receive sufficient information from doctors.
“We ask any minor who approaches us to involve their parents because we genuinely think it’s best for them to involve their parents,” said Ruth Lockhart, executive director of the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor, which provides abortions, of Davis’ bill at a news conference before the hearing. “The exceptions to this rule are tragic, however.”
However, Susan Leighton, a lobbyist for the Maine Right to Life Committee, said Davis’ bill is trying to “help parents help their kids” through an abortion, as it is a trying emotional time. “Currently, my daughter is 17; and if she were to be pregnant, she could go to an abortion clinic without my knowledge,” she said.
By national standards, the Maine abortion laws targeted by the Davis and Espling bills are very relaxed.
Thirty-eight states, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York, require either parental consent or notification or both, according to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute. It says only Maine, Connecticut and the District of Columbia allow minors to obtain abortion services without parental consent.
Relative to Espling’s bill, the Guttmacher Institute said that while 27 states have “detailed, abortion-specific informed-consent requirements,” Maine is one of another eight states with more relaxed informed-consent provisions.
Restrictive states such as Indiana and Kansas impose waiting periods before all non-emergency abortions and require women to receive written material saying personhood begins at conception.
“We’re not trying to take away choice,” Leighton said. “If you’re pro-choice, you’re pro-informed.”
Abortion-rights advocates say current law is adequate. Megan Hannan, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said provisions in Espling’s bill are intended to “shame, judge and confuse” women.
“The reason we allow women to request additional information (rather than automatically giving it to them) is because we know there are many reasons women decide to end their pregnancy,” she said.
Volk’s bill is similar to laws in most other states. A 2008 fact sheet from the pro-choice Law Students for Reproductive Justice at New York University Law School says a majority of court jurisdictions allow wrongful-death causes of action for a viable fetus that dies from injuries.
Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said while Volk’s bill seeks to protect abortion providers, it still could place a burden on an abortion provider to prove in a civil proceeding that an abortion was legal.
The Judiciary Committee probably will take a position on the bills today.
In 2011, a bill similar to Davis’ bill failed 80-63 in the House, with 17 Republicans voting against it. The more moderate Senate rejected it 24-10, with most Republicans in that chamber voting against it.
That year, a bill similar to the one Espling submited failed by a larger margin in the House and by the same margin as Crafts’ bill in the Senate.
Former Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, submitted a proposal somewhat similar to Volk’s in 2011. That proposal would have created new crimes of murder, felony murder, manslaughter, assault, aggravated assault and elevated aggravated assault against an unborn child.
It got an ought-to-pass recommendation in committee, but it still narrowly failed to pass in the Legislature, by three votes in the Senate and 15 in the House.
Michael Shepherd — 370-7652