People could sue over the death of a fetus under a bill that cleared Maine’s Republican-led state senate Tuesday by a one-vote margin.
The legislation allows a person to file a wrongful death suit for actions leading to the death of an “unborn viable fetus,” which is defined as at least 24 weeks’ gestation. The pregnant person or health-care provider cannot be sued.
The bill is expected to be heard Wednesday in the house, where Democrats hold a slight majority.
LD 327 is a form of “personhood” legislation that has been rejected in ballot measures many times. Such bills chip away at abortion access and undermine reproductive autonomy, while granting the state the power to investigate, and potentially prosecute, cases of fetal death. In Alabama, the state Supreme Court recently permitted a woman to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against her doctor on behalf of her six-week-old embryo, as Rewire reported.
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“This bill is another attempt to establish fetal personhood and will harm pregnant people more than it will protect any developing pregnancies,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of law and the courts. “The law tries to establish fetal viability as a fixed moment in time, despite the fact that both the medical community and the courts have said time and time again that viability is unique to each pregnancy.”
Mason Pieklo suggested prosecutors might extend the reach of Maine’s “personhood” legislation, if enacted, to cases of self-induced abortion.
“Despite the fact it purports to exclude abortion, as the Purvi Patel case in Indiana illustrates, that won’t necessarily stop law enforcement from trying to prosecute women who end their own pregnancies,” Mason Pieklo said.
Legislators in six states have enacted a form of so-called personhood legislation by writing into state law that life begins at conception, according to the Guttmacher Institute. These laws require a pregnant person to be told their fetus is a person as part of a state-mandated consent process.
The Maine GOP legislation is a reboot of a similar measure that failed in 2013, and has several of the same backers. The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Eleanor Espling (R-New Gloucester) has sponsored or co-sponsored five other anti-choice bills, according to Rewire’s legislative tracker.
Espling contends the bill isn’t about legal personhood.
“This is asking for a woman, a family, who has had something taken from them to collect damages,” she told Maine Public Radio.
The Maine house narrowly rejected the legislation in a vote this month, as the Associated Press reported.