Decades after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion throughout the U.S., the ability to access that right looks dangerously fragile. Missouri’s sole abortion clinic is struggling to stay open. Eight states have tried to ban abortion after
“cardiac activity” is detected, which is usually around the sixth week of pregnancy — when the embryo is about the size of a pomegranate seed and well before most women know they are pregnant. Alabama Republicans recently passed a bill designed to nullify Roe altogether, though its chances of success don’t seem high. But as grim as the news tends to be, there are still reasons for optimism. Some states have actually expanded abortion access this year, and on Monday, Maine became one of them.
The state’s newly elected Democratic governor, Janet Mills, signed a bill that will allow nurse practitioners, osteopathic physicians, and physicians assistants to perform abortion procedures. “States across the country, including Vermont and New Hampshire, have already eliminated this outdated restriction on abortion care,” state House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, said in a press release praising the new law. Maine’s new law also resembles elements of New York’s recently passed Reproductive Health Act, which allows some medical professionals who aren’t doctors to perform abortions. In Maine, as in New York, the expansion will significantly increase abortion availability at a time when other, more conservative states are determined to shrink that right into nonexistence.
Maine’s new bill may be especially beneficial for women living in rural communities. Maine is one of the most rural states in the country, and medical care of any kind can be spotty and difficult to access in sparsely populated areas. That can be doubly true for abortion care. According to the New York Times, Mills’s office has said that there are currently only three cities where a Maine woman can receive an aspiration abortion in a “publicly accessible” medical clinic. Rural women who need aspiration abortions might have to drive hours to the nearest clinic to get one. That’s a trip that many women can’t afford to take.
During the tenure of Paul LePage, the Republican whom Mills replaced in January, the women of Maine could expect little assistance. But since she took office, Mills has steadily liberalized the state. She’s signed bills to ban conversion therapy for LGBT minors, to require paid sick leave, to ban the use of offensive Native mascots and imagery by public schools, and to allow Maine’s loggers and wood haulers to bargain collectively for higher wages. The election of Mills was a symptom of broader, burgeoning change: Democrats now control both chambers of the Maine legislature, and the state’s rural, and typically conservative, Second Congressional District elected Democrat Jared Golden to Congress last November. Maine’s shifting political allegiances isn’t just good news for Democrats; now, it’s good news for women, too.