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LD 327 – Ought Not to Pass

May 16, 2017

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LD 327 “An Act To Allow a Wrongful Death Cause of Action for the Death of a Viable Fetus” –  Ought Not to Pass

Statement of Andrea Irwin, JD, Executive Director at the Judiciary Committee

Senator Keim, Representative Moonen, and other members of the Judiciary Committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Andrea Irwin and I am the executive director of Mabel Wadsworth Center in Bangor. We are the only independent, not-for-profit feminist health center in Maine. We provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare, including prenatal care, abortion care, birth control, STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings, and other wellness care. I am here today representing our organization in opposition to this bill which we believe would restrict abortion access and negatively impact providers serving prenatal patients in Maine.

Since 1997 we have provided prenatal care to our community and we offer full-service pregnancy care. When women come to our health center, they can access all their pregnancy options under one roof, including abortion and continuing and deciding to parent.

This bill would make providing prenatal care much more difficult for providers and potentially harm the women we care for. First and foremost, the bill would expose us to additional liability without clear evidence that it would further the safety and quality of care. This bill would also interfere in the provider-patient relationship and place an additional and unnecessary burden on providers. This bill would require that they prove that they legally obtained consent, had no knowledge or reason to have knowledge of the pregnancy, and otherwise acted within the applicable standard of care.

This bill would also harm the women we serve as an abortion provider. (And to be clear, these are often the same women who come to us seeking abortion and prenatal care or in reverse order over the course of their lifetime.) No matter how proponents seek to label this bill, or how they describe the intent behind it, this is a fetal personhood bill, plain and simple.

As others here have testified, current Maine law already has protections in place for families and loved ones who experience such tragedies. We, too, care deeply for the health and well-being of pregnant women and want to ensure that people who harm pregnant women, especially violent and abusive partners, are held accountable. We know all too well that the rate of abuse in intimate partner relationships increases during pregnancy and pregnant women are at increased risk of homicide. Unfortunately, this is not just a sobering statistic we’ve read about but a practice we see play out in women’s lives. However, this bill will neither prevent nor reduce such violent acts and instead is a clear attempt to undermine legal abortion in Maine.

As an abortion provider, we are already held to a different standard than other providers. As a facility that serves more rural and geographically isolated parts of the state, we already struggle to recruit and retain providers. In addition to the typical concerns about high malpractice rates of insurance faced by all OBGYNs, abortion providers face harassment and concerns for their own safety. While there is an exemption to allowing a cause of action against an abortion provider, there is no actual prohibition on lawsuits against us. Again, as written, the burden is on the provider to legally defend their actions that may otherwise be in line with good medical care and practice.

Women need access to pregnancy care, both abortion care and prenatal care, and if enacted, this bill would impact our ability to provide safe, quality healthcare in our community as we have more than 20 years. Now, more than ever, with cuts to the safety net and social services, the women of our community need to be able to get the healthcare they need without additional barriers.

Finally, I would ask that you consider the intent of this proposal. This proposal is clearly taken from anti-abortion advocates who seek to restrict women’s access to safe and legal abortion. The purpose of this bill is to grant new legal rights to a fetus and erode women’s access to safe and legal abortion. This bill further minimizes pregnant women’s role as autonomous beings with agency by attempting to provide legal equal standing to the fetus she is carrying. In addition to restricting abortion, this bill would pit a woman’s legal standing and rights against those of her fetus, further threatening the health and safety of women who become pregnant and creating an adversarial relationship between the two. Under this bill, a pregnant woman could be liable for any number of behaviors that could be deemed as harming her fetus.

Since Roe legalized abortion in the U.S. in 1973, Maine has largely opposed efforts to restrict access and supported women who seek abortion, understanding it to be an important part of personal decision making and autonomy, a tradition we should follow now. This bill is unnecessary, dangerous and would only create confusion in Maine law.

Mabel Wadsworth Center opposes any and all attempts at restricting reproductive freedom. We trust women to make the best decisions for themselves about their bodies and reproductive health. We know that a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about when and whether to become a parent has a lasting impact on her life, her education, and her financial security. Politicians should not be interfering with her ability to make such an important decision.

I strongly urge you to vote “ought not to pass”.  Please contact me with any questions. Thank you.