Abortion still legal in Maine in wake of landmark Supreme Court ruling



ELLSWORTH — “Abortion is still safe and legal in Maine for now,” said Mareisa Weil, vice president of development and community engagement for Maine Family Planning.

That’s due to Maine’s 29-year-old Reproductive Privacy Act, which protects the right to legal abortion in state law.

Weil has been fielding a plethora of calls since Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, ruling that women do not have a constitutional right to obtain abortions. This leaves the legality of abortion care up to each state government to decide.

Maine Family Planning has 18 sites across Maine where abortion care is available, including both medication and surgical abortion.

“Pre-Roe, if you had money, you could always get an abortion,” Weil said. “That’s unfortunately what it looks like we’re heading back for. Despite Roe, abortion was never equally accessible or equitable.”

Abortions aren’t just about ending pregnancies. They can be life-saving procedures for women.

“It can mean completing your miscarriage, if you’re miscarrying,” Weil said. “If your fetus dies inside of you and you don’t miscarry, you need an abortion. That’s what it’s called.”

Women who are victims of incest or rape or “reproductive coercion” may need abortion care, Weil said.

“There are such a wide breadth of abortion experiences, which is why we should not be legislating this,” she said. “We should have the right to get this care. This is truly essential reproductive health care. It’s a part of our reproductive lives.”

What is available if you’re a woman in the Ellsworth region and need care?

There are two options: medication abortion if you’re up to 11 weeks pregnant or surgical abortion, Weil said.

Medication abortion is available through telemedicine at all of Maine Family Planning’s 18 sites, including the Ellsworth site at the Mill Mall.

The Mabel Wadsworth Center in Bangor offers surgical abortion care. Otherwise the next closest facility for that service is Maine Family Planning’s site in Augusta, which offers procedural abortion care up to 14 weeks.

“There are some hospital systems that may provide abortion care to their patients if needed and deemed medically necessary,” Weil said.

Suzanne Spruce is senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer of Northern Light Health.

“At Northern Light Health, our focus is ensuring that all women have access to the care they need to live long, healthy lives,” Spruce said. “The U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade does not change Maine law and the services we currently offer will remain the same.”

Planned Parenthood of Maine offers medication abortion at its locations in Biddeford, Sanford, Topsham and Portland, with the latter offering surgical care as well.

Knowledge of abortion care, no matter your age or sex, “is going to be really important in this post-Roe world,” Weil added. To that end, she said there is a lot of misunderstanding about medication abortion.

“It’s not the morning after pill,” Weil said, speaking of emergency contraception women can take to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved abortion pills through 10 weeks.

“We offer it through 11 weeks,” Weil said. That means a woman can receive medication abortion pills dating back to 11 weeks since the start of her last menstrual period.

“You might know the date of conception,” Weil said. “But pregnancy is dated from the first day of your last menstrual period.” Up to 11 weeks from that date, abortion medication is available.

“Maine is also what’s known as a viability state,” Weil said. Viability means a fetus’s ability to survive outside a womb.

“You cannot get abortion care in Maine past that gestation,” she said. “That is truly tragic, to be honest. Most people who need a later-term abortion, either their lives are in danger or the fetus has been identified as being incompatible with life.”

“People accessing abortion care later is usually because of a horrible diagnosis,” Weil said. There are physicians outside of Maine who offer abortions later in pregnancy, she said.

Individuals do not have to be 18 or older to receive abortion care services in Maine.

“Minors have rights to access abortion care,” Weil said. What age is considered a minor? Weil said the age was “not clearly defined.”

Who pays for abortions?

If a woman is on MaineCare, then MaineCare pays, Weil said.

“Unlike many states, MaineCare will cover abortion care just as it would cover any other” prenatal care, Weil said. “That’s definitely something anti-choice politicians are out for continually.”

There is also funding available to agencies whose clients may not be able to pay.

That includes Safe Abortions for Everyone (SAFE). This organization will send funds to the clinic, not the patient directly.

Weil said people want to know what they can do to help right now.

“We need our clinics and our providers to stay open and keep serving people,” she said. “We’re already dramatically underfunded. A monthly recurring donation is an excellent way to help.”

Weil said she hears of people wanting to help other states where abortion access has abruptly ended. Weil wants Mainers to remember there is work to do here, including the upcoming election in November.

“Our right to safe legal abortion is only as safe as the people who are representing us in Augusta,” Weil said. “The Reproductive Privacy Act can be undone in a single session. We could lose that right and we could become an abortion desert state ourselves. We need to protect this right in our state vigorously.”

While a portion of Maine mourns the loss of the constitutional right to abortion, another segment is celebrating. That includes the Auburn-based Maine Right to Life organization.

The organization, which states it was founded “to protect and uphold the dignity and worth of each human life from conception to natural death,” referred to a press release when asked for comment.

“We are very pleased that the court recognized that abortion on demand was never a part of the Constitution,” stated Executive Director Karen Vachon. “Overturning Roe does not prohibit abortions. Rather, the court’s decision will allow states to pass pro-life legislation. It goes back to the people and state legislature, and it allows states to choose abortion policy representative to the citizens.”

“This is a victory for women, the unborn and the pro-life movement that has worked so hard to save and promote life,” Vachon stated. “For far too long, pro-abortion groups have gotten away with the sky-is-falling argument that overturning Roe would outlaw abortions or reverse abortion rights. They wanted people to believe that reversing Roe would automatically outlaw abortion.”

“A lot has changed since Roe was decided,” Vachon continued. “In 1973, the technology didn’t exist to allow babies to survive outside the womb at 21 or 22 weeks gestation. With scientific advancement, more babies are surviving prior to what was once considered ‘viability.’ While some have changed their position on abortion with this knowledge, many members of the public, as well as women contemplating abortion, may not realize how developed a baby is at various stages of pregnancy.

“At 15 weeks of gestation, a baby’s heart has been beating for over two months. Brain waves are detectable at eight weeks. At nine weeks, a baby is kicking and swimming. At 10 weeks, a baby can begin to hear. Women deserve to get accurate information when facing an unplanned pregnancy. So they can make an informed choice that they can live with and feel good about.”

 

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an error. Maine Family Planning does not offer in-clinic abortion care past 14 weeks of gestation.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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