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ACLU and Planned Parenthood Take on Unconstitutional Abortion Restrictions in Maine

Women's March
Women's March
Julia Kaye,
Senior Staff Attorney, Reproductive Freedom Project,
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September 20, 2017

Legal abortion is one of the safest services in contemporary medicine, and the evidence is crystal clear that nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives can safely and effectively provide this care in the first trimester of pregnancy. But Maine law blocks these qualified providers from serving their patients, and, as a result, some rural women are being forced to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion.

That’s not just bad policy — it’s unconstitutional. So we’re going to court.

Today the ACLU, the ACLU of Maine, and Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit challenging a provision in Maine law that requires that abortions be performed solely by physicians and blocks qualified nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives — also known as advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs — from doing so.

Peer-reviewed medical literature, including a recent four-year study of more than 11,000 abortion patients published in the American Journal of Public Health, uniformly confirms that APRNs can safely and effectively provide this care early in pregnancy.

Citing these strong safety data, medical authorities ranging from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to the World Health Organization, have concluded that laws prohibiting APRNs from providing abortion services early in pregnancy are medically unfounded.

This restriction simply has nothing to do with clinical expertise or patient safety.

In fact, abortion is the only health care service the state singles out as beyond an APRN’s scope of practice. APRNs in Maine regularly perform services that are comparable to first-trimester abortion in complexity and risk, including miscarriage management — which is identical to the procedure used for an early in-clinic abortion. And, of course, nurse-midwives can and do safely deliver babies, which poses far greater risks than the care at issue here.

All this law does is hurt patients. And, as is so often the case with restrictions on abortion, low-income and rural women suffer the most.

Maine's abortion restriction simply has nothing to do with clinical expertise or patient safety.

Because of this medically unjustified restriction, patients in Maine have very limited options when it comes to where and when they can obtain abortion care. Some patients in rural areas have had to delay their care for weeks, and travel for hours, just to get an abortion — even though there is a qualified provider in their community ready and willing to care for them.

That is unacceptable and unconstitutional.

This is the first court challenge to a physician-only law since the Supreme Court made clear in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that states cannot burden patient access to abortion without proof of a valid medical justification. Maine’s physician-only law simply cannot survive this test.

Our plaintiffs — four APRNs and two reproductive health care providers in Maine — just want to be able to provide safe, compassionate care to their patients. Maine has no legitimate reason for preventing them from doing so.

We won’t rest until this unjustified and harmful restriction is off the books.

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