Senate endorses bill calling for state funds for abortions

May 14, 2019 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A bill to require Maine’s Medicaid program and private insurers to cover abortion by 2020 moved ahead Tuesday in the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The Senate voted 19-16 Tuesday to favor the bill, which exempts religious employers. The House previously voted 79-63.

The bill faces a round of procedural votes before heading to the desk of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, whose administration backed the bill.

Supporters agree with a civil liberties group’s lawsuit that argues Maine discriminates against low-income people by covering maternity care but blocking state Medicaid funding for abortions. Democrats buoyed by November wins are also calling for health insurers who cover maternity services to include abortions.


“The decision about pregnancy and abortion belongs to Maine women,” said Democratic Sen. Heather Sanborn, the Senate chair of the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee. “Not to me, not any government agency, not to any insurance company,” she said.

The bill received pushback from several Democrats and Republicans, who argue forcing all taxpayers to fund abortions is unjust. Republican Sen. Lisa Keim questioned whether Maine women are actually being denied access to abortion services due to their ability to pay.

“It takes away a business’s choice whether or not to provide abortions in benefit packages,” said Republican Sen. Stacey Guerin. “Many pro-life businesses will be forced to drop their health care coverage to prevent their resources from being used to abort beautiful little boys and girls.”

Maine is among 34 states that follow a decades-old federal guideline known as the “Hyde Amendment,” which provides Medicaid funding for abortions only in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother’s life, according to abortion rights research group Guttmacher Institute.

The remaining states have policies to fund abortions through state funds.

The bill calls for Maine to use “state funds within existing resources” to cover abortion services for Medicaid recipients. That’s estimated to amount to $375,000 annually.

The bill wouldn’t provide new funding for such coverage and doesn’t address the effect of unfunded costs to other state programs.