AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills announced a measure Tuesday, Jan. 17, to expand abortion access until late into pregnancy, fulfilling a promise made during a reelection campaign that portrayed Maine Republicans as a threat to reproductive freedom.

The bill would allow the procedure at any point in a pregnancy as long as a qualified medical professional deemed it necessary.

Mills said she was inspired to seek the expanded access by the story of Yarmouth resident Dana Peirce, who had to travel to Colorado for an abortion after she and her husband learned that their second child had a rare genetic mutation that resulted in a deadly form of skeletal dysplasia, which led to broken bones in the womb and a rib cage too small to let him breathe. Peirce wrote about her experience in the Portland Press Herald last November.

“As strong as Maine’s abortion law is, it still leaves people like me without options. We had to travel away from our home, our daughter and our support systems to end my pregnancy,” she wrote.

Mills announced she was submitting the bill and three other new pieces of legislation through Democratic leaders in the state Senate and House at a press conference in the Hall of Flags in the State Capitol, in the week leading up to what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

The other bills would protect abortion providers from potential criminal prosecution and get rid of what Mills described as antiquated data collection measures that invade abortion seekers’ privacy rights and puts abortion providers at risk. Details remained unclear Tuesday morning.

Abortion emerged as one of the top issues of the last campaign cycle for Democrats after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last spring, ending a woman’s right to an abortion under the U.S. Constitution.

Maine is one of 17 states with a law protecting a woman’s right to abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think thank that studies abortion issues across the country.

Enacted in 1993 under Republican Gov. John McKernan, Maine’s law allows abortions up until fetal viability, which generally occurs between 22 and 24 weeks. After that, an abortion may only be performed to preserve the life or health of the mother.

But Mills and her fellow Democrats have argued that laws can change, depending on who controls the state government, so abortion rights groups have supported amending state constitutions to explicitly protect abortion rights.

Mills has repeatedly said that she would support a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights if an analysis by the Attorney General’s Office determined that one doesn’t already exist.

Planned Parenthood has signaled a desire to see more abortion protections and access in Maine. In October, a spokeswoman told the Press Herald it wanted to expand access to abortions after a fetus is viable in cases of rape, incest or a fetal anomaly likely to result in an infant’s painful death.

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House Republicans respond

Following Mills’ announcement, Maine House Republicans issued a statement saying they oppose her “extreme expansion of Maine’s abortion laws.”

“After making taxpayers fund elective abortions, Democrats are now proposing abortions at any point in a woman’s pregnancy, removing the existing ‘viability’ standard,” they said.

“This runs counter to wide support for current Maine law that restricts abortions after fetal viability. Despite statements suggesting Republicans would seek to change Maine’s abortion law, it is now Governor Mills who is looking to make Maine’s the most extreme in the country.”

The House Republicans encouraged widespread participation in the public hearing process “so the voices of all Maine people are heard before extreme changes are made to current law.”

Planned Parenthood memo

In a memo to news media following the announcement, Planned Parenthood said, “It is important to remember that abortion is a medical procedure, no matter when in a pregnancy it is performed.”

The organization pointed out that the vast majority of abortions occur during the first trimester, which is through the 12th week of gestation. According to the Planned Parenthood memo, 92% of all abortions in Maine take place by the 12th week of pregnancy, and nearly 70% of all abortions in Maine occur before nine weeks.

Abortions at or after 21 weeks are uncommon, the organization said, and represent 1% of all abortions in the U.S.