AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate voted Tuesday to require MaineCare and private health insurers to cover abortion services, likely clearing the way for final passage of the controversial measure.

Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, speaks during debate Tuesday on a bill to provide insurance coverage for abortions in Maine. She said the bill “would force every Maine taxpayer to fund elective, non-medically necessary abortions right up to the point of viability for any reason.” Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The 19-16 vote came one week after the House voted 79-63 to pass a measure that supporters argue is necessary to ensure that women can access abortion care regardless of their income or insurer. While the bill faces additional procedural votes, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is expected to sign the measure into law.

The bill, L.D. 820, would expand the circumstances under which the state Medicaid program, MaineCare, covers abortion services and also would require private insurers that provide coverage for maternity care to cover abortions. But opponents say the bill violates the religious or moral beliefs of abortion opponents by using taxpayer money to pay for the procedure.

Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, was among several bill supporters who said decisions about pregnancies should be made by women and their doctors. Bellows said the bill is not about taxpayer funding for abortions but, instead, is aimed at ensuring insurance companies do not make political decisions or discriminate against women.

“This bill is simply about requiring our insurance companies to cover abortion just like any other medical procedure, to ensure that it remains safe, legal and available so that women and their families – in consultation with their doctors and their churches – can made their own decisions,” Bellows said.

Opponents said repeatedly, however, that the bill would require all Maine taxpayers to foot the bill for abortions because of the expansion of MaineCare coverage. They also pointed out that MaineCare already covers abortions for women whose life or health is in danger, or who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

“L.D. 820 would force every Maine taxpayer to fund elective, non-medically necessary abortions right up to the point of viability for any reason,” said Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield.

A federal law known as the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services, but allows states to pick up the costs. Fifteen states – including Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont – have opted to use state tax dollars to pay for abortions through their respective Medicaid programs.

Abortion rights groups are hoping to capitalize on Democratic majorities in the Maine House and Senate as well as Mills’ election last November to win several policy victories this year in Maine. The debates are occurring at a time when other states, such as Georgia, are enacting some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation.

Alabama lawmakers voted Tuesday to ban virtually all abortions in the state, including for victims of rape and incest, The Washington Post reported. The measure permits abortion only when necessary to save a mother’s life, a standard that contradicts federal court rulings.

The gallery was full of opponents wearing light blue clothes during Tuesday’s debate on a bill to provide insurance coverage for abortions in Maine. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The number of abortions performed in Maine fluctuates from year to hear, although the long-term trend appears to be downward. There were 2,653 performed in 2005 but only 1,836 in 2015, a 31 percent drop, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The expansion would cost MaineCare roughly $375,000 per year, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill.

The Senate vote fell largely along party lines, with all but two Democrats – Sen. Michael Carpenter of Houlton and Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham – supporting the measure and all 14 Republicans opposing it.

Abortion rights advocates hailed the vote.

“While we all have our own personal feelings and beliefs about abortion, we don’t want a law that stops people who need an abortion from getting one by actually preventing them from using their healthcare coverage,” Nicole Clegg, vice president at the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said in a statement. “That’s what’s happening now and it doesn’t feel right. L.D. 820 will ensure that a woman can make her own medical decisions about abortion without her insurance denying care.”

 

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