Maine Wire | by Edward Tomic | June 9, 2023
Tensions ran high at the State House Thursday night as Democratic lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee held a hastily organized work session for Gov. Janet Mills’ controversial late-term abortion bill.
The chaotic evening session ended with Democrats quickly moving to table Gov. Mills’ bill after refusing to let Republican committee members ask questions of expert witnesses or call witnesses of their own.
“After the largest Public Hearing in Maine history, receiving 23 hours of testimony, new amendments are being rushed through in the dead of night without committee Republicans being able to ask medical and legal experts how they affect Maine abortion law,” GOP members of the committee said in a press release.
Members of the public and Republican lawmakers learned late Wednesday that Judiciary Co-chairs Sen. Anne Carney (D-Cumberland) and Rep. Matt Moonen (D-Portland) planned to hold the last minute work session.
The rapid advance of the bill helped avoid the pro-life spectacle that occurred on May 1, when more than 1,500 opponents of LD 1619 turned out to testify against the legislation.
Since that time, Democratic leaders waited an unusually long period of time to hold the work session, leading some pro-lifers to speculate that pro-abortion lawmakers didn’t have the votes.
Even with the short notice provided, Mainers opposed to the bill packed two overflow rooms as committee members considered other legislative business.
But Republican efforts to question witnesses were stymied when the time came to deliberate LD 1619.
Rather than allow for open debate and questioning of witnesses, as typically occurs during work sessions, Democratic leaders used their authority as committee chairs to block Republican input.
The Senate Chair denied “a thorough review of one of the most consequential pieces of legislation ever before us,” Republicans said in a statement.
“This is outrageous, intentional, and disrespectful to the legislative process and the Maine people who sent us here. Republicans have also been denied the ability to question pro-choice doctors,” the GOP statement said.
“At one point the House Chair told them that they didn’t need to question people present in the room, stating we can get those [answers] for you,” said Republicans.
The drama adds yet another chapter to what has been a contentious and acrimonious process since Mills reneged on a thoroughly articulated campaign process to seek no changes to Maine’s abortion laws.
Mills said multiple times during her 2022 re-election campaign against former Republican Gov. Paul LePage that she would seek no changes to Maine’s abortion laws.
She specifically said she would not seek to alter the 24-week viability threshold that has limited abortion in Maine for 30 years.
That changed after she was re-elected.
In a move that hasn’t been thoroughly questioned by most Maine news outlets, Mills changed her position to embrace a series of pro-abortion bills, including LD 1619, a bill that would eliminate all of Maine’s current restrictions on abortion.
The bill, among the most radically pro-abortion measures ever considered in the United States, would expand the class of medical professionals who can perform late-term abortions to include physician assistants and registered nurses.
The bill would allow abortions to be performed after viability whenever a physician determines it is necessary, instead of when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.
The bill also would repeal criminal penalties for performing post-viability abortions without being licensed as a physician, physician assistant or advanced practice registered nurse.
Democrats made a last ditch effort to amend the bill by more clearly defining what “necessary” would really mean.
However, it remains unclear what impact that amendment would have, in part because Carney and Moonen shutdown debate on the subject.
Near the end of Thursday’s work session, Carney tried to prevent Rep. Rachel Henderson (R-Rumford) from bringing up an expert witness to answer questions specifically about medical necessity.
“When I said that I had a doctor who I felt would be better suited to answer the questions about necessity, [Carney] told everybody that she felt like the committee meeting was getting out of hand. And that we weren’t actually asking questions to help clarify how we were going to vote. And that essentially, she wasn’t going to allow anybody else to come up and testify,” said Henderson.
At one point, Carney told Republicans off mic that the committee’s analyst had a graduation ceremony to go to, so they really needed to wrap up, Henderson said.
“I just need to say that over the past few days of work sessions, we’ve had the chairs calling up lobbyists as witnesses, especially in timeframes when we were told at 9:30 at night, this is the work session tomorrow,” Rep. Jennifer Poirier (R-Skowhegan) said to Carney.
“You had your people that you wanted to speak on record and we weren’t given that same consideration,” Poirier said.
As this was all unfolding, the House members on the committee were shuffling in and out of the room in order to make floor votes Democratic leaders scheduled to occur at the same time, causing chaos for lawmakers, legislative staff, and observers.
Although Democratic leaders told Republicans it was just poor scheduling, several Republicans weren’t convinced it was an accident.
At one point, Moonen grew so flustered that he stormed out of the hearing as Henderson was trying to convey Republicans’ desire to question a medical doctor.
Shortly after Republicans released a furious statement about the unorthodox process, Moonen suggested that someone motion to table the bill — a motion that passed before Rep. Henderson could raise a point of order to explain why she wanted to have her expert witness testify.
Carney told Henderson that she could bring her point of order at the beginning of the next work session on LD 1619.
“This is a disservice to the community and I vote no,” Poirier said, voting against the motion to table.
LD 1619 was tabled and will be rescheduled for a work session at a later date.
The maneuver means the Judiciary Committee can move quickly to vote on the bill whenever it has a quorum, teeing up floor actions in the House and Senate.