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'This Is Awesome!': Maine on Track to Ensure More Equitable Access to Abortion With New Insurance Rules

The effort by Maine's Democrat-controlled Legislature to expand access to the procedure comes as Republican lawmakers in other states work to roll back reproductive rights nationwide

Pro-choice activists celebrate

Pro-choice activists celebrate on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, D.C. In a 5-3 decision, the court struck down one of the nation's toughest restrictions on abortion. (Photo: Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

While GOP legislators in several states threaten reproductive rights nationwide with laws targeting Roe v. Wade, pro-choice advocates celebrated a victory Tuesday after Maine's Democrat-controlled Senate voted in favor of a bill that would require both the state's Medicaid program and private insurers to cover abortions by 2020.

"Thank you to the advocates, activists, providers, and legislators in Maine for pushing us closer to a world where abortion is accessible for all."
—NWLC

The Maine bill, L.D. 820, still faces procedural votes before it heads to the desk of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, whose administration supports the measure. However, with senators' 19-16 vote Tuesday, which followed a 79-63 vote in the Maine House last week, it is expected to become law.

L.D. 820 would mandate that private insurers which provide coverage for prenatal care cover abortions, with exceptions for religious employers. The bill would also make Maine the 16th state to use tax dollars to cover elective abortions under MaineCare, the state Medicaid program.

For decades, the Hyde Amendment has blocked federal Medicaid funding for abortion services unless a woman's life is at risk, or in cases of rape or incest—but states are allowed to use their tax funds to cover the costs. Critics argue that the federal restrictions block low-income women from terminating pregnancies.

"We don't want a law that stops people who need an abortion from getting one by actually preventing them from using their healthcare coverage," said Nicole Clegg, vice president of the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. "That's what's happening now and it doesn't feel right. L.D. 820 will ensure that a woman can make her own medical decisions about abortion without her insurance denying care."

Both local and national reproductive rights advocacy groups welcomed the Senate's vote:

The effort by Maine Democrats to expand access to abortion care comes as Republican state legislators across the country push through bills designed to force the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade. One such measure advanced Tuesday to the desk of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican who has not yet said whether she will sign what would be the nation's most extreme abortion ban.

Passage of the Alabama legislation came just a week after Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, signed a bill banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected—which is typically around six weeks, before many people even know they are pregnant.

Civil liberties groups promised to file lawsuits challenging both measures—cases that could eventually end up before the nation's highest court.

The Supreme Court added to concerns about the future of the right to abortion, which has been constitutionally protected since the 1973 Roe ruling, when it overturned an unrelated four-decade precedent on Monday.

Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by the court's three other left-leaning justices, wrote in the dissent, "Today's decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the court will overrule next."

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