Ron Schmidt: National anti-choice campaign attacks the rights and lives of Maine women

Ron Schmidt: National anti-choice campaign attacks the rights and lives of Maine women

The Maine legislature is currently considering two pieces of legislation that have been designed to harm over half of our state’s population. One, LD 1312, intervenes in the relationship between women and their doctors. The other, LD 83, adds additional burdens on minors (or children, to speak plainly) who are the victims of sexual abuse.

I began to write a column about the economic cost of such targeted attacks on the autonomy of Maine’s women and children. After all, women are just over half of all Mainers, but they make up 70% of those living on minimum wage incomes, and 14% of Maine women live in poverty. Real representation of Maine women would mean more economic growth and stability for the state as a whole. But the more research I did, the more dumbfounded I became.

These bills aren’t just economically short-sighted; they are assaults on the rights, and the lives, of Maine citizens. How did legislation like this ever make it to Augusta?

Let’s begin by looking at the bills themselves. LD 1312 is a TRAP, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, bill. Similar pieces of legislation have passed in other state legislatures; they purport to serve women’s safety by imposing crippling costs on any health clinic that provides access to abortion procedures, under the guise of making the health clinics rise to higher standards requires of some medical providers, like hospitals, to better protect women. The rationale these bills offer is absurd; since the spread of penicillin use, abortion has become a very safe medical procedure, at least 14 times more safe than child-birth which, coincidentally, most often occurs in hospitals.

The “problem” these legislators are looking to solve doesn’t actually exist.In other states — notably Texas — TRAP bills have made affordable women’s health care both rare and remote. The Maine House voted it down this week, but it’s still alive and awaiting consideration by the state Senate.

Meanwhile, LD 83 — “An Act to Strengthen the Consent Laws for Abortions Performed on Minors and Incapacitated Persons — is still being considered in committee. This bill requires a minor to obtain the written consent of a parent in order to have an abortion. Despite the fact that the bill states that parents “shall consider only the pregnant woman’s best interests,” it doesn’t explain how that will be enforced, and it in no way considers the possibility — which is a basic assumption in much of American politics — that the person involved in the legislation will be the best enforcer of her own best interests.

LD 83, to be fair, does consider the possibility that a minor seeking an abortion may well be the victim of sexual abuse. But the protections it offers victims of abuse in such cases are totally inadequate. Section 4 of the bill requires that the minor obtain the written testimony of an older sibling, or step-parent, or grandparent. Section 9 offers the alternative of a court order that results from a petition the minor can submit to a court.

“These restrictions on abortion are the result of a ‘one size fits all’ legislative agenda, a national campaign to weaken the basic rights of women and minors to access legal and safe reproductive health care.”

Please consider that for a moment. If a teenager is raped in the home, and becomes pregnant, this law will require that they obtain the written testimony of a relative. Sexual predators are generally abusive; do the bill’s sponsors assume that people closely related to someone who will rape a child in their family are not also terrorized? I can’t imagine they think that is the case; but they still insist that children who have been raped by a family member must now assume this new legal burden. Or, if they cannot do so, that they can petition a court.

What teenager, without the support of their parents or grandparents, has the skills or the income to engage the American legal system in order to charge a parent with a horrible crime?

Who could consider the situation of children in these circumstances and decide that they want to make their lives harder? Who could decide to take the trouble — and, believe me, passing legislation is an enormous amount of trouble — to add to the burdens of people who have already been preyed upon?

These restrictions on abortion are the result of a “one size fits all” legislative agenda, a national campaign to weaken the basic rights of women and minors to access legal and safe reproductive health care. The TRAP bill is part of a well-funded attack on us by well-funded ideological interest groups. The parental notification bill also represents a national ideological campaign that would create victims out of Maine teens.

But there is hope in this “David and Goliath” situation. Tip O’Neill, Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and just one of the many national leaders to arise from New England, once remarked that “all politics are local.” O’Neill was criticized in his own party for being overly-obliging to the Reagan Administration, but he never forgot that legislation — at the state AND the national level — has to be supported by politicians who rely on local voters, and local customs and beliefs, for their power.

National interest groups can spend lot of money in local races, and we’ve seen a lot more of that in the last ten years; they can send out model bills, and campaign platforms, and campaign ads. But they still need to win over local constituencies to get what they want, and I don’t think the people of Maine are going to allow the fantasies of distant anti-choice lobbyists to undermine the rights and the safety of our friends and neighbors, of all of us, and of our children.

If you agree, and you want to speak to your state senator about the fate of these bills, give them a call at 1-877-240-0271.

Photo credit: Flickr/Brianne

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Ron Schmidt
Ron Schmidt 45 posts

Dr. Ronald Schmidt is an Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of History and Political Science at the University of Southern Maine.

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