Maine's new law will increase abortion access for women in rural areas

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ByTebany Yune

On Monday, May 10, Maine governor Janet Mills took a major step towards supporting reproductive health by signing a law that will allow medical professionals other than doctors to perform or provide abortion services in the state. As reported by The New York Times, Maine's new abortion law grants Advanced Practice Clinicians (APCs) — physician assistants, registered nurses, and licensed allopathic or osteopathic physicians — permission to provide abortion medication and in-clinic procedures.

In a statement on Monday, Governor Mills said, "These health care professionals are trained in family planning, counseling, and abortion procedures, the overwhelming majority of which are completed without complications."

The bill, which will go into effect in September, is part of an ongoing effort to expand the state's reproductive health care services for women, particularly those living in rural areas. In her statement, the governor said that the previous ban on APCs giving patients' abortion care forced many Maine women not living in major cities to struggle with finding healthcare professionals who could assist them with an abortion.

As noted in a 2014 study by the Guttmacher Institute, approximately 81 percent of Maine counties do not have clinics that provide abortions. With 55 percent of Maine women living in those counties, this means that over half of the population currently has reduced access to reproductive health care; an aspiration abortion, for instance — a common, gentle suction (or "vacuum") procedure — is only available in three Maine cities, meaning that women who need it often have to travel several hours to find a certified provider. In letting more medical professionals perform those kinds of procedures, Maine's new law aims to end undue inequality throughout the state.

"By signing this bill into law," stated Governor Mills, "Maine is defending the rights of women and taking a step towards equalizing access to care as other states are seeking to undermine, rollback, or outright eliminate these services."

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There is no medical or scientific data to justify the ban on APCs performing abortions that's currently in place in Maine and other states. In a statement on Monday, the ACLU of Maine noted the fact that several health organizations — such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the World Health Organization, and the American Public Health Association — have released reports that support the safety of allowing registered nurses and other APCs to perform abortion services.

"Data, including from the CDC, show abortion has a 99 percent safety record," said the ACLU, "meaning fewer than one percent of abortion patients have complications."

The Guttmacher Institute supports this finding. "Abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures for women in the United States," reads the organization's website. "Fewer than 0.05% of women obtaining abortions experience a complication."

In its statement, the ACLU of Maine also praised Governor Mills' move in that it allows her state's citizens to have freedom of choice in regards to their health. "This law will help eliminate a significant barrier to abortion access in Maine," Advocacy Director Oamshri Amarasignham said, "and ensure that each of us can make decisions about our health and our future without political interference."

According to NBC News, Maine will join California in having a codified law that allows APCs to perform abortions. Other states such as Oregon, Vermont, and Washington also permit the practice, but have not yet turned it into an actual law. The Times reports that several more states are in the midst of filing lawsuits to push for abortion accessibility through APC services.

However, there's also an increasing number of states passing severe bans on abortions with the goal of eventually challenging Roe v. Wade. So as encouraging as the passing of Maine's law is, remember that it's just one element of a much larger fight over the legality of abortions occurring nationwide.