Westbrook neighbors Wendi Verrill (left) and Laura Huff take part in a raucous vigil in Portland's Monument Square on Jan. 22, marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 guaranteeing women a federal right to abortion. The ruling was overturned in 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Kathyrn Sharpless is a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist based in Portland.

As an obstetrician and gynecologist who has practiced for over 17 years, I help people decide if, and when, to have children. I see my patients through pregnancies resulting in births, miscarriages and abortions. Providing abortion care ensures reproductive health and bodily autonomy. Without abortion care, a pregnant person suffers potentially lifelong harm from being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy. 

In Maine, abortion is currently banned after “viability,” a period of time that may differ for each pregnancy. Mainers harmed by this ban include a woman seeking an abortion who had to drive to Boston during a snowstorm. She traveled with her two young children and, due to financial hardship, planned to stay in her car in the hospital parking lot overnight during the two-day procedure. Fortunately, the hospital staff learned of her plans and paid for a hotel room. 

Another Mainer harmed by the ban was a 14-year-old girl whose mother drove her to Washington, D.C., for the abortion care she needed since there were no closer locations that could help her. Many people who need abortion care later in pregnancy lack the financial resources, transportation and child care to leave Maine, and, instead, continue the pregnancy.  

My heart breaks each time I am forced to give pregnant people who need abortion care later in pregnancy a list of out-of-state providers because Maine’s current law bans it and includes criminal penalties. I know many I am forced to turn away won’t be able to get the care they need. These are people whose developing pregnancies have fetal anomalies identified later in pregnancy, people who discover they are pregnant later in pregnancy and people who face obstacles, such as cost or difficulties finding a provider, that delay their abortion care until later in the pregnancy.  

People denied an abortion are more likely to live in poverty, be unemployed and stay in dangerous relationships. They are more likely to experience anxiety, stress and lower self-esteem compared with people who are able to obtain an abortion. Lack of access to abortion care is most detrimental to people of color, young people, people with few financial resources and people living in geographically isolated areas, including many parts of Maine. The ban on abortion later in pregnancy in Maine harms pregnant people and their families, especially the most vulnerable

The ethics of providing an abortion early in pregnancy are the same as later in pregnancy. Supporting pregnant people in obtaining the abortion care they need is trusting pregnant people and their families to decide what is the best course of action based on their individual needs and medical circumstances. 

Gov. Janet Mills’ bill, An Act to Improve Maine’s Reproductive Privacy Laws, LD 1619, is a compassionate, patient-centered bill that will ensure pregnant people can access safe, legal abortion care when they need it, throughout pregnancy. This bill will improve Maine’s laws to reflect evidence-based best practices, eliminate criminal penalties and help pregnant people get the care they need right here at home.