July 20, 2017

Augusta – A “fetal personhood” bill that would have established a fetus as a separate and distinct person from the woman who carries it will not become law. LD 327 would have conveyed legal status to a fetus, granting the fetus the legal rights to “heirs and an estate” and the right to sue under Maine’s probate code. The bill died in non-concurrence after the House rejected it multiple times and the Senate voted in favor.

“Anti-abortion activists are using bills like this one to chip away at abortion rights across the country,” said Oamshri Amarasingham, policy director at the ACLU of Maine. “This is a victory for ability of Maine women to make the decisions that are best for themselves and their families.”

LD 327 would have opened the door to wrongful death lawsuits against any individual or entity that the “heirs” of a fetus believe were responsible for a second- or third-trimester pregnancy loss, including an abortion provider or any other health care provider.

The ACLU argued the bill is unnecessary because Maine law already provides specific, additional tools for prosecutors and judges seeking to charge or punish a perpetrator who has harmed a pregnant woman in a way that damaged or terminated her pregnancy.

In 2005 Maine passed the Motherhood Protection Act, which requires judges, when determining sentences for perpetrators, to assign special weight to the fact that “the victim is a woman that the convicted person knew or had reasonable cause to believe to be in fact pregnant at the time the crime was committed.” At the same time, the Legislature also created the crime of Elevated Aggravated Assault on a Pregnant Woman, which established as a Class A crime punishable by up to 40 years in prison the act of intentionally or knowingly causing serious bodily injury to a person the perpetrator knew or had reason to know was pregnant. By law, “serious bodily injury” includes injury to the fetus or termination of the pregnancy.

And in cases such as domestic violence and car accidents that result in the loss of a pregnancy, a woman can sue for negligence, assault, battery or a host of other causes and the court will take the loss of pregnancy into account in awarding damages.

LD 327 is nearly identical to a bill introduced in 2013 as part of a package of bills to restrict access to safe and legal abortion. It is similar to other “fetal personhood” bills around the country that are championed by opponents of abortion rights as a way to chip away at abortion rights, and is based on template language provided in the Americans United for Life legislative guide.

“This bill was never about protecting pregnant women or their families,” said Amarasingham. “If legislators truly want to do so, they should focus on the very real threats to healthy pregnancies, like poverty and lack of access to health care. We are grateful to those legislators who took a stand for women’s health and well-being and voted against this bill.”

The ACLU of Maine was joined by reproductive health care providers, medical experts and advocates for victims of domestic violence in opposing this bill.

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