Maine expands list of abortion providers

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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine is making it easier to get an abortion with the governor's signing of a bill Monday to allow medical professionals who are not doctors to perform the procedure.

The bill, which Democratic Gov. Janet Mills introduced herself, will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, which is expected in mid-June.

Maine is now set to allow nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse-midwives to provide abortion medication and perform in-clinic abortions, which typically involve suction.

Maine joins other Democrat-led states moving to protect and in some cases expand abortion rights as GOP-led states push tighter restrictions .

"Maine is defending the rights of women and taking a step toward equalizing access to care as other states are seeking to undermine, rollback, or outright eliminate these services," Mills said.

Only physicians perform abortions in most states.

Maine will be the second state after California with a law allowing non-doctors to perform in-clinic abortions, according to Maine's Office of Policy and Legal Analysis. Nearly two dozen states, including Vermont and New Hampshire, have expanded their list of abortion-medication providers following court or agency rulings.

Abortion rights groups including Planned Parenthood for years have fought against physician-only laws. This year, groups are trying to strike down the bans in Idaho, Virginia, Maine, Wisconsin and Arizona.

Critics said they are concerned that some non-doctors lack the training to handle rare but major complications from abortion procedures, such as hemorrhages.

"Expanding who is allowed to perform an abortion does not expand the safety of the procedure," Republican state Sen. Stacey Guerin has said.

But supporters have argued that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants testified that Maine's restriction is outdated.

Maine has faced lawsuits from advocacy groups and abortion clinics over its abortion provider restrictions, as well as its ban on state Medicaid funds for abortions.

Democrats with newfound power over both chambers of the Legislature and the governor's mansion moved this year to remove both restrictions.

Maine's new law comes as half a dozen Republican-dominant states have passed near total bans on the procedure.

Another Maine bill to allow state funding for abortions for Medicaid recipients has won support so far in the state House and Senate. Now that bill — which has an estimated $375,000 annual price tag — is in the hands of the Legislature's appropriations committee as it decides which bills to fund this year.

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