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As Republicans advocate further restrictions on abortion, Gov. Janet Mills has proposed a law to enable Maine women to have post-viability abortions “only necessary in the professional judgment of the health care professional.” If a campaign materialized to oppose this bill, it is likely that Mainers will listen to women who faced horrible situations.
Mainers will hear from Dana Pierce, who’s already told her story to the Portland Press Herald. In her case, an ultrasound at 32 weeks revealed “a deadly form of skeletal dysplasia, a problem with bone growth that results from a random, rare gene mutation. Since his normal 20-week anatomy scan, he had broken several bones, and his rib cage was too small for his lungs to fill with air. Cameron was suffering, and if he survived birth, he would not be able to breathe.” Pierce described the choice about whether to have an abortion as determining “whether or not Cameron would continue to suffer” and then made the decision not to let the suffering continue by having an abortion out of state.
And they’d hear about women like a friend I’ll call Eileen. She and her husband really wanted to be parents. It took time for her to get pregnant and when they found out it had happened, they were filled with joy. Eileen did all the right things, eating well and getting prenatal care. But then they learned terrible news. The fetus had no brain, a condition called anencephaly. With this fetal deformity, there is no way to survive after birth more than a few hours or, at the most, days. Moreover, as the Fetal Health Foundation warns, “a fetus with anencephaly carries an increased medical risk for the mother.” With this in mind, Eileen and her husband decided to terminate the pregnancy, avoiding a good deal of emotional pain and potential physical risk from going to full term.
What do Maine groups opposing the governor’s proposed bill have to say to these women?
“The evangelical Christian Civic League of Maine, the state’s leading anti-abortion group, would ‘err on the side of prayer and hope’ in rare cases of abnormalities later in pregnancies,” the BDN reported. Given that Maine is one of the least religious states, it’s very unlikely most Mainers think prayer and hope should be the only legal option in these circumstances.
Also not focusing on the suffering of unviable fetuses and the pregnant women who carry them, Bishop Robert Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland said the Mills proposal lacked “compassion for children.”
Simply applying a negative label, Maine’s House Republicans called the Mills proposal “radical.” But it’s unlikely that Mainers agree with them.
In fact, polling shows that, when Americans think about abortion, they are very sensitive to situations involving pregnant mothers’ health and fetuses’ viability. True, if you just ask people when in a pregnancy an abortion should be legal, more disapprove than approve for those later on. But that generic disapproval declines precipitously when people are asked about specific circumstances.
In fact, as the Pew Research Center put it, “there are certain situations in which there is clear consensus abortion should be legal” and those include those the Mills proposal will legalize.
Very few — under 5% overall — think all abortions conducted at or after 24 weeks of pregnancy should be banned. As Pew reported, “44% of those who initially say abortion should be illegal at this late stage go on to say that, in cases where the woman’s life is threatened or the baby will be born with severe disabilities, abortion should be legal at 24 weeks. An additional 48% answer the follow-up question by saying ‘it depends,’ and 7% reiterate that abortion should be illegal at this stage of pregnancy even if the woman’s life is in danger or the baby faces severe disabilities.”
Maine abortion opponents didn’t listen to Mainers before the election and, in opposing the narrowly drawn bill by Mills, still aren’t listening. If they were, they’d realize that most people understand pregnant women sometimes face tragic circumstances and should be able to decide what to do about them.