New Maine Law Aims To Stop Harassment At Abortion Clinics

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A new law in Maine is designed to prevent harassment and blockades outside abortion providers in the state.

Supporters said the new law gives health service facilities the ability to establish and mark a “medical safety zone” that extends 8 feet (2 1/2 meters) from the center of an entryway. The zone would prohibit people from intentionally blocking entrances or harassing and threatening patients, said supporters. Violations could be charged as a misdemeanor.

Rep. Jay McCreight, a Harpswell Democrat, said Monday she proposed the bill to “provide important protections so that people will no longer be repeatedly and intentionally obstructed from receiving the health care they want and need.”

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills announced Monday — the final day of the state’s legislative session — that she signed the proposal into law last week.

Maine is now one of four states with a law that creates a “bubble zone” that limits protests nears the doors of a medical clinic, according to a 2019 report by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion access.

The language of the new law says it applies to “a building in which patients receive health services,” but a public hearing on the bill in March focused heavily on abortion facilities. The Maine Women's Lobby released a statement in support of the proposal at the time, saying “the right to peacefully protest does not extend to interfering with the rights of others to access services.”

The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence testified that it could not support the expansion of the state’s criminal code. The group’s spokesperson, Regina Rooney, testified that lawmakers should instead consider ways to improve civil enforcement on the rules.

Rooney testified that the state has “only just begun reckoning with the unintended consequences of relying too heavily on the criminal legal system to solve society’s problems.”

Maine passed its bill as some Democratically controlled states are seeking to shore up abortion access in a time when Republican-controlled states have passed laws to restrict access. Vermont's House of Representatives approved a proposal in February to amend the state constitution to include a “Reproductive Liberty” amendment. It goes before voters in November.

In Kentucky, a federal judge last week temporarily blocked a state law that effectively eliminated abortions in the state. New Hampshire outlawed abortion after 24 weeks this year, but lawmakers recently added an exception to the ban for cases in which the fetus has been diagnosed with “abnormalities incompatible with life.”