AUGUSTA — With hardly a word of debate, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee voted to slap “ought not to pass” labels on several bills regarding abortion rights on Friday morning. The bills were the subject of intense, four-hour testimony the day before at the Augusta Civic Center, where dozens of people testified both pro and con.
The major abortion bill is LD 1593, a measure to ban so-called “partial birth abortions.” Initiated by a petition of 85,000 names, the bill will proceed to the floor of the House and Senate for debate and a vote. Under the initiative process, the lawmakers can pass the bill exactly as proposed — a route preferred by anti-abortion activists — or send it to voters in the form of a referendum question in November.
As proposed, the question would read, “Do you want to ban a specific abortion procedure to be defined in law, except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger?”
As defined in the initiative proposal, “partial birth abortion” means “an abortion in which the physician performing the abortion partially vaginally delivers a living fetus before killing the fetus and completing the delivery.”
Committee member Rep. G. Paul Waterhouse, R-Bridgton, made a motion to recommend that the bill “ought to pass” on Friday morning, but his motion failed for a lack of a second. A motion to recommend against the bill passed 8-2 with no debate.
The committee voted 8-3 against bills that sought to establish a 24-hour waiting period (LD 2123) and require parental permission (LD 137) before an abortion could be performed.
The committee voted unanimously against LD 571, sponsored by Rep. Adam Mack, R-Standish, since it was identical to the petition bill. The vote was also unanimous against LD 0917, sponsored by Rep. Robert A. Cameron, R-Rumford, to ban abortions except in cases where the life or health of the mother is threatened.
Officials from the Christian Civic League or the Christian Coalition, organizations that sponsored the initiative, were unavailable for comment on Friday.
Opponents of the ban were cautiously encouraged by the committee vote.
Joanne D’Arcangelo of the Campaign to Protect Women’s Health said Friday, “We are obviously pleased with the decision and feel that the committee acted on good, solid information. But it is no foregone conclusion what the House and Senate will do. We will not take a single vote for granted and we will talk to every legislator and tell them to send it out to referendum.”
The ban opponents expect a close fight, since a bill to limit abortions passed in the House two years ago, but was rejected in the Senate.
“The important goal is to ensure a full public debate so that legislators and the voters get full information,” D’Arcangelo said. “This is absolutely an attack on all abortion rights. It is a deceptive proposal, a tool to do what the anti-abortion forces have tried to do for 20 years — make abortion illegal and unavailable.”