May 16, 2013

Abortion legislation draws passionate testimony Thursday

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- Roberta Zuckerman and her husband wanted badly to have a second child. After miscarrying, she went through fertility treatments. She got pregnant and was ecstatic.

click image to enlarge

Pro-choice and anti-abortion protesters exchange words in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic at 443 Congress St. in Portland in January. A public hearing was held Thursday in Augusta on three abortion-related bills.

2013 Press Herald File Photo / John Patriquin

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Then she learned the fetus had trisomy 13, a chromosomal abnormality that meant the baby probably would die in its first year of life. After much thought, Zuckerman said, she and her husband chose to abort the child to spare it from suffering.

The South Portland psychotherapist told legislators Thursday if an "informed consent" bill being considered by the Legislature had been state law at the time, doctors would been required to give her information that would have made the decision even more traumatic.

"We were devastated. This was the most painful time in our lives," Zuckerman said. "I cannot begin to imagine the unnecessary and profound trauma that would have been caused ... if the doctor who performed the abortion told me the details of the procedure" as required in the bill.

However, Darcey Fraser, of Plymouth, said 17 years ago, she was about to have an abortion when she learned her 9-week-old fetus had begun developing features. She said her boyfriend supported abortion and providers suggested it, but that information saved the baby.

"When I heard my baby had fingers and toes and a beating heart, I knew I couldn't kill her," she said. "It's amazing that Paije Ann Marie's fingers and toes saved her life."

Paije was in the committee room.

The informed-consent bill, L.D. 760, is sponsored by Rep. Eleanor Espling, R-New Gloucester, and was one of three bills that brought pro-choice and pro-life advocates to testify Thursday before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. Testimony on the bills was passionate, lasting into Thursday evening.

Maine law now requires a woman be told what the procedure entails and the gestational age of the fetus before an abortion is performed. At a woman's request, a doctor must discuss alternatives to abortion.

Espling's bill would ensure a woman be told more information than current law requires before the procedure, including "the name of the physician performing the abortion, scientifically accurate information about the fetus and the father's liability for support," the bill says.

Another bill, L.D. 1339, sponsored by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, would require the "written consent of a parent or legal guardian before an abortion may be performed on a minor or an incapacitated person," allowing consent to be given in some circumstances by a brother or sister over age 21, or a stepparent or grandparent.

Maine law now requires a pregnant girl 17 or younger to get the consent of a parent, guardian, adult family member or judge before getting an abortion.

The two bills are examples of Republican efforts to tighten abortion laws around the country, but are considered unlikely to pass in the Legislature, which has shot down similar bills in past sessions, including when Republicans controlled the majority in both chambers. Democrats have that advantage now.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage is staunchly pro-life, but his spokeswoman said he would not take a position on those bills Thursday.

A third bill debated at the hearing, L.D. 1193, is sponsored by Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, and would allow a wrongful-death lawsuit to be filed in the death of an unborn viable fetus past 12 weeks old. However, a legal abortion, the bill says, would exempt a mother and abortion provider from being sued by the fetus's estate.

Critics of that bill noted that the science used to determine that viability mark, however, is uncertain. One of the earliest-born babies ever to survive outside the womb was born at 21 weeks, according to a University of Iowa database tracking the earliest-born babies. Volk said she is considering amending that portion of the bill to 24 weeks.

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