AUGUSTA — House lawmakers rejected a LePage administration proposal that would have required doctors, drug treatment providers and other professionals to report pregnant women suspected of using drugs.

In a largely party-line 77-62 vote to kill the bill, House lawmakers delivered what is likely a fatal blow to legislation that supporters contend is needed to address an alarming rise in babies born addicted to drugs or alcohol in Maine.

State law already requires certain health care providers to inform the state when a newborn shows signs of drug withdrawal. The late-filed bill from Gov. Paul LePage, L.D. 1556, would have expanded that reporting requirement to known or suspected substance abuse during “gestation,” and added substance abuse providers to the list of professionals required to report suspected drug use.

Opponents argued that the bill could do more harm than good by discouraging pregnant women struggling with addiction from seeking either prenatal care or substance abuse treatment.

“Physicians are deeply concerned that the bill, if enacted, would scare pregnant women away from badly needed prenatal care due to the fear of being reported,” Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, said while reading from testimony from the Maine Medical Association. Hymanson is a physician who co-chairs the Human Services Committee.

Other opponents said the bill was unnecessary because of the existing mandatory reporting law for drug-affected newborns.

But supporters, including lead sponsor Rep. Deborah Sanderson, argued that waiting for an infant to be born addicted to drugs is too late. Instead, they said Maine should be taking a more proactive approach to identify and help steer would-be mothers with substance abuse problems into treatment programs before the fetus suffers more severe harm.

“The department is finding out about these children only after the child has been born, so that’s the reason for this bill so they can identify them,” Sanderson, R-Chelsea, said during House floor debate. “This is not punitive. This is to be able to provide help, provide services, provide stability. The mother needs it, the child needs it.”

The number of drug-affected babies has soared in Maine in recent years due, in part, to the ongoing opioid epidemic.

In 2006, 1.4 percent of the roughly 14,000 babies born in Maine were drug-affected. That percentage has ticked upward every year since, to the point where 8.2 percent – roughly one in 12 – of the babies born in Maine last year were drug-affected and were treated for withdrawal as newborns, according to statistics from Maine DHHS.

Fifteen states require health care workers to report suspected drug abuse during pregnancy, and three states – Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee – have made drug abuse during pregnancy a crime, according to a 2015 report by the investigative journalism organization ProPublica.

But public health organizations have warned that mandatory reporting could prompt fewer pregnant women to seek treatment for substance abuse.

Organizations opposing LePage’s bill – in addition to the Maine Medical Association – include the Maine Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, Maine Family Planning, the Maine Women’s Lobby and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

The bill faces additional votes in the Republican-controlled Senate, but appears likely to die between the two chambers.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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