In September, Maine will start allowing health care professionals like nurses to perform abortions, thanks to a bill signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills (D) on Monday.
The law allows nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other advanced practice clinicians to administer medication abortion and other in-clinic procedures. The number of clinics where aspiration abortion, the most common type of in-clinic procedure and used up to 16 weeks in pregnancy, is performed would increase from three to up to 18 — including in Aroostook County, among the poorest counties statewide, and where patients have had to travel over 150 miles for an in-clinic procedure.
“Allowing qualified and licensed medical professionals to perform abortions will ensure that Maine women, especially those in rural areas, are able to access critical reproductive health care services when and where they need them from qualified providers they know and trust,” Mills said in a press statement. “These health care professionals are trained in family planning, counseling, and abortion procedures, the overwhelming majority of which are completed without complications.”
After Roe v. Wade, every state but Vermont said only physicians can perform abortions. Since then, six other states — Alaska, California, Colorado, New Hampshire, New York, and Oregon — have changed their laws to allow advanced practice clinicians like nurses perform abortions.
Numerous peer-reviewed studies show nurse practitioners can safely and effectively perform first-trimester abortions. Nurse practitioners often perform more complicated tasks. For example, in Maine, they are able to deliver babies. Nurse practitioners are also predominantly women; in Maine, they make up 90% of the field.
“The State does not single out any other health care service as beyond an [advanced practice registered nurse’s] scope of practice—only abortion,” said a September 2017 lawsuit aiming to outlaw Maine’s physician-only law. The lawsuit was filed when Republicans controlled the state but is likely moot now with Maine’s new law.
“Allowing advanced practice clinicians like nurse practitioners to provide abortion care means more Mainers will have access to high-quality care in their communities from medical professionals they trust,” Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, said in a statement.
“At a time when states across the country are banning and restricting access to safe and legal abortion, Maine is leading the way not only to protect the right to an abortion but to ensure abortion is accessible,” she added. “For people facing structural barriers to health care, like people with low incomes, people of color, people living in rural areas, and people with disabilities, the legal right to an abortion matters little when you can’t access or afford the care you need.”
Monday’s victory comes at a time when lawmakers in red states are especially emboldened, working to shutter abortion clinics through regulations and passing laws to ban the procedure outright. In the first four months of 2019, governors in four states — Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Utah — signed a total of eight measures that restrict abortion in some way, according to the Guttmacher institute.
The victory in Maine was possible after Mills replaced Gov. Paul LePage (R), who adamantly opposed abortion rights, and Democrats took gained control of the legislature for the first time in 10 years.
This post has been updated to clarify that Maine could expand the number of providers up to 18.