When it comes to women’s reproductive autonomy, it seems that everywhere we look these days, states are in a race to the bottom. But not Maine. Just this month, Governor Janet Mills signed into law two important bills supporting the legal right to access abortion, a healthcare procedure that is critical to all people’s equality and freedom.
The first, LD 1261 — An Act to Authorize Certain Health Care Professionals to Perform Abortions, expands eligible providers of abortion services to include physician assistants, advanced practice registered nurses and licensed allopathic and osteopathic physicians. The second, LD 820 — An Act To Prevent Discrimination in Public and Private Insurance Coverage for Pregnant Women in Maine, requires that health insurance carriers providing coverage for maternity services include coverage for abortion services, and that the Department of Health and Human Services provide coverage to MaineCare members for abortion services.
These laws are a win for all Maine people. They mean that more of us will have the right to make whatever choice about our family composition is best for ourselves and our families. The voices on Mabel Wadsworth Center’s blog make clear that people thrive when they are able to access needed healthcare services such as abortion, and that returning to the days of poor access and back alley procedures only serves to harm those needing services, and their families.
As one person shared of their decision to have an abortion, “I was so close to getting out of the need for food stamps, low-income housing, and Medicaid, and the idea of putting my daughter through years more of struggle was unconscionable; we had struggled enough.” Another described months of bleeding after a pre-Roe v. Wade abortion and subsequent infertility, saying “While I do not regret my decisions, I do regret that safer and less painful methods were not available.”
As I say in my book, Childfree by Choice, “without complete access to the range of reproductive choices and the right to make those choices for themselves…we can never claim that women enjoy complete freedom.” It is no accident that college attendance rose significantly among women in the United States — from 38 percent of women high school graduates in 1960 to around half by 1975 — after they gained greater control over their fertility. In the intervening years, the first federally approved oral contraceptive became available in 1963, and abortion was legalized in 1973.
While the passage of LD 1261 and LD 820 are good news for the people of Maine, the fight to limit access to reproductive services and destroy Roe v. Wade continues around the country. In Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio, lawmakers have already passed bills severely limiting abortion access and further stigmatizing women who are able to gain access. This in spite of the fact that research shows women who are denied abortion consistently face worse health outcomes than those who are not.
In short, our work is not done. Access to care should not be limited to the rich or to those fortunate enough to live in a state that provides it.
While complete reproductive freedom remains beyond the reach of many, Maine is making steps in the right direction. The nation may not be going as Maine goes at present, but never before has our state motto of Dirigo been so relevant. Indeed, Maine leads the way in establishing life as it should be.
Amy Blackstone is a professor at the University of Maine and an author. This column reflects her views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the university. She is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.