A major Maine abortion provider is seeing some out-of-state patients seeking services here and anticipating more ahead of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that could erode the constitutional right to abortion.
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which provides services in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, has seen patients come from as far away as Texas to Maine seeking abortions in recent months.
“People are making choices based on where they have support systems, what might be accessible travel for them, in terms of where they’re going to access care,” said Nicole Clegg, the vice president of public policy in Maine for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
It is a preview of what could happen if the high court allows restrictive laws in conservative Texas or Mississippi to take effect. Up to 26 states are likely to ban or severely restrict abortion access if it is allowed. Maine and other states with more permissive abortion laws would be able to keep them and likely see more patients from restrictive states.
Both laws seek to roll back the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling affirming the right to abortion, and a 1992 decision that states cannot impose an undue burden on abortion before fetal viability. The Texas law bans abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks into a pregnancy and before many know they are pregnant.
In a bid to bypass judicial precedent, lawmakers placed enforcement not in prosecutors or police, but in the hands of private citizens who can sue those who help people get prohibited abortions. The Mississippi ban poses a more straightforward challenge to Roe, banning virtually all abortions after 15 weeks.
Clegg did not give exact numbers, but she said Texas’ recent law restricting abortions played a major role in a handful of patients from that state seeking care at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and that she anticipates more after the Supreme Court hears arguments early next month on a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks.
The Supreme Court has so far declined to block the Texas law, which is now in effect, though many justices indicated skepticism during oral arguments on the legal merits of the case earlier this month. Clegg anticipated the conservative-majority court would back the Mississippi ban, allowing state abortion bans to go into effect. Many other states could follow, including roughly a dozen with so-called “trigger” laws mirroring any new federal limits.
“So you could be looking at more than half of the country with abortion bans,” Clegg said.
The number of people seeking abortion services fell by half in the month after the Texas law took effect in September, the Texas Tribune reported. Planned Parenthood clinics in neighboring states saw an 1,082 percent increase of patients with Texas ZIP codes seeking abortions in the same month compared to September 2020 and September 2019.
Maine Family Planning, which provides services to low-income Mainers, has not seen a significant influx of out-of-state patients seeking abortions at its 18 clinics across the state, said spokesperson Mareisa Weil. The Mabel Wadsworth Center, another abortion provider in Bangor, did not return requests for comment.
Maine is one of nine states that have “strongly protected” abortion access, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, an pro-abortion rights group. A 2014 Pew Research poll showed that 64 percent of Maine adults thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases, tied for the sixth-highest share among states.
Bills passed by the Maine Legislature in 2019 required public and private health insurance plans to cover abortions, and allowed more medical professionals to perform the procedure. The Democratic-led Legislature has routinely turned back Republican bills seeking to limit abortion rights in recent years.