AUGUSTA – House and Senate lawmakers rejected a bill on Wednesday that would have required young women to obtain consent from a parent or other adult before undergoing an abortion.

The bill was the subject of lengthy and oftentimes emotional debate in both chambers as supporters argued that requiring parental consent for an abortion is only logical given the fact minors are required to receive parental permission for other medical procedures and even field trips. Opponents countered, however, that Maine’s current law already protects both young women and the rights of parents.

“There is not a problem,” said Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco. “Why are we trying to change the law?”

The Senate voted 18-17 to reject the bill while the House voted 77-67 several hours later.

Current Maine law allows women under age 18 to receive an abortion without parental permission if they first undergo counseling by an approved person or obtain consent from another family member, a guardian or a judge. But supporters of L.D. 83 argued Maine’s now 25-year-old “adult involvement law” is so broad that it amounts to more of a suggestion of parental involvement.

The bill, as amended in committee, would require parental consent or permission from an adult family member unless there is a medical emergency. The bill would allow minors to petition a court or judge for permission.

Sen. David Burns, a Whiting Republican and father of five, said the bill was, for him, one of the most important of the legislative session. Burns acknowledged there are differences of opinion about the reasons for Maine’s low teen-pregnancy rate and falling abortion rate, as well as the effectiveness of the existing law.

“But there are many parents out there who are being cut out or isolated from that important decision,” Burns said.

This is the third time supporters have brought a parental consent bill to the Legislature in the past six years. Opponents warned that the bill, as with previous versions, could drive some young women to seek unsafe abortions from unlicensed providers or from clinics in other states because they feared talking to their parents. They also raised the specter of women being abused by unforgiving parents.

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