AUGUSTA — In response to an ever-larger number of parents refusing to allow newborns to receive shots to boost vitamin K levels, legislators are considering whether to make the treatments mandatory.

The bill under consideration also would strip parents of the right to cite religious objections to block the application of an eye solution that can prevent blindness in babies.

“It’s imperative that we make sure doctors, nurses and midwives do everything we can to ensure the newborns entrusted in our care have a healthy and safe start to life,” said Sen. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, a retired physician who sponsored the measure.

Her bill requires doctors, midwives and nurses in charge of births to administer vitamin K to help prevent bleeding in some infants, a practice that’s been commonplace since 1961.

At a public hearing on the proposal, more than two dozen opponents called for the Legislature to kill the bill as an unwarranted intrusion on parental rights, an argument that has made similar efforts to require vaccines controversial during this year’s session.

“When each healthy family unit is not able to function without unnecessary interference, it removes much of the inherent pride that comes with starting a family and seeing it succeed by investing your time, effort and love into it,” Turner chiropractor Ruth Varney told the Health and Human Services Committee, which plans a work session on the bill Friday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vitamin K deficiency bleeding occurs when babies “cannot stop bleeding because their blood does not have enough vitamin K to form a clot.”

Bleeding often takes place in the intestines or brain, where it is difficult to notice, but can also lead to more obvious bleeding from the umbilical cord or elsewhere, sometimes serious enough to cause death.

Since 1961, experts said, doctors have given vitamin K injections, usually through a shot into a leg muscle, to ensure the problem doesn’t happen. The CDC said it is safe.

In recent years, however, more and more families have been refusing to allow the injection out of worries it may cause health problems rather than stave them off.

A study published this month by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that in one large medical center, a quarter of the 3,758 babies born there didn’t receive any of the four treatments recommended for infants, including vitamin K shots. It called the trend alarming.

A 2014 study found that parents who decline vaccines for their children are more apt to refuse the vitamin K shots.

Chris Woods, a neonatal nurse practitioner at Maine Medical Center in Portland, told the committee about a 2012 case involving a healthy baby he called Pam who developed severe bleeding from the site of her umbilical cord at the age of 27 days.

“Her parents applied direct pressure but were unable to stop the bleeding,” he said, so she was taken to an emergency room, where doctors also had no luck stemming the bleeding.

Transferred to a major medical center, Woods said, the girl “continued to bleed profusely and was noted to be in hemorrhagic shock, which quickly worsened over the next two hours,” including blood oozing from a small scratch on her leg and through her nose.

A lab test showed Pam suffered from a lack of vitamin K so the girl was immediately given plasma and the missing vitamin. After many transfusions, she got better, he said.

It turned out that her parents had declined the routine shot that would likely have kept Pam safe.

The CDC says that late-onset vitamin K deficiency bleeding — which hits up to six months from birth — is 81 times more common in infants who don’t get vitamin K at birth.

Sanborn said she agreed to push for the bill at the urging of Maine Medical Center staff who are seeing more parents decline both the shots and the eye treatment for newborns.

“This is concerning given the fact that without administration our children are put at higher risk of brain damage or blindness, both of which are completely preventable,” Sanborn told colleagues.

Critics of the measure, though, said parents should make the call on whether their children receive the treatments.

“Our babies are not born broken. Our babies are born beautiful and perfect and whole,” Lincolnville mother-of-three Bethany Allgrove told the committee.

Deneige Pelleteir of Lewiston told lawmakers her son born in 2015 got jaundice shortly after receiving the shot, which she believes was related and led to later food allergies.

Another parent, Joanna Hebert of Garland, wrote in a letter to legislators that “there is no one, I repeat no one, who cares for the health and well-being of my child more than I do. This life that I have prayed for, waited for, and worked so hard for!”

“How dare you assume the right to make any decisions regarding my child,” she wrote. “Just because a particular treatment is right for some or even many does not mean it is right for all. Babies, like everyone else, are individual and should be treated as so.”

Dr. Christopher Motyl, a pediatrician who serves on the board of directors of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the committee the eye drops and vitamin K shot would help prevent serious health problems.

He called for “the universal administration of intramuscular vitamin K and the application of eye prophylaxis to all infants born in Maine” even though “a very low percentage of parents will still resist these requirements.”

At least five states, including Massachusetts, require vitamin K administration at birth. New York does not allow exemptions for either vitamin K or the prophylactic eye ointment.

Sanborn said one provision that got written into the bill, without her knowledge, to fine or potentially jail people for noncompliance should be removed when the committee works on the measure’s final wording.

Before it can become law, the bill would have to win the support of both the state House and Senate, along with Gov. Janet Mills’ approval.

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