A Pocket Full of Progress: Reproductive Justice Moves Forward in Maine

Despite the daily drama of the 2015 legislative session, the Maine legislature was able to enact a number of new laws that will make a big difference in Mainers’ ability to access reproductive care and to raise families in safe, healthy communities. Many of these laws survived because of the strangest development of the legislative session: 71 bills passed with bipartisan support were spared from the threat of veto because the Governor failed to act within the 10-day window allowed by the Maine Constitution.

Of course, this story isn’t over– the Governor believes that he can still veto these bills, and has requested the Maine Supreme Court to issue an opinion on the matter. We can’t predict what will happen, but we’re encouraged by the number of experts who agree that these bills are now laws.

We’ll be following these events closely, and we’ll keep you updated on developments and what they’ll mean for policy and practice in Maine. In the meantime, it’s worth discussing what a few of these new laws will mean for reproductive justice in our state. 

Family Planning Services for more low-income Mainers

This law will provide reproductive health coverage (for services such as pap smears, pregnancy tests, and birth control) for an estimated 13,000 Mainers who make too much to qualify for MaineCare, but are still making a relatively low income and don’t have private health insurance. We’ve heard too many stories of people having to decide between paying for birth control (or other care) and necessities like food, fuel, or housing. This is a really big deal, not only for affordability, but for Mainers’ ability to control their own bodies and create families in the way they choose. And by helping couples avoid unintended pregnancies that would likely be covered by MaineCare, it saves taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

Employment Protections for Survivors of Sexual Assault or Abuse

It’s currently illegal to fire victims and survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking for taking time off to attend court proceedings or seek medical care and other services– but the consequences for doing so are minor. This law improves protections for survivors of assault and abuse by increasing penalties for employers who violate the current law. No one should have to worry that they’ll lose their job because they’ve been assaulted, and for many survivors, knowing that they’ll be able to support themselves financially is crucial in order to leave an abusive partner, file charges, or seek medical care.

General Assistance for Asylum Seekers

Reproductive Justice means supporting every parent’s right to create and raise their families safely and with dignity. By definition, asylum seekers are in Maine because they aren’t safe–and certainly can’t safely raise a family–in their countries of origin. Federal law prohibits asylum seekers from working for 6 months after they file for asylum; Maine’s General Assistance program is one of few safety-net supports available to help these families survive during that time. This law makes asylum seekers eligible for state-funded General Assistance for a limited period, while they are waiting for authorization to begin working. Not only does Maine have an opportunity to provide a safe, supportive home to asylum seekers, but we can help those families live safely, healthfully, and with dignity.

Guidelines for the Shackling of Pregnant Women

Shackling a pregnant inmate during medical appointments or labor and delivery can pose significant health risks for a woman and her pregnancy. This law will protect pregnant inmates by banning the use of restraints on a pregnant prisoner (except in extraordinary circumstances). Until now, Maine was the only New England state without a law regulating this practice, so whether or not to shackle a pregnant woman has been left up to the correctional officer. Reproductive justice means supporting women in carrying safe and healthy pregnancies when they choose to; that right should not be taken away when a person is incarcerated.

De-Felonization of Nonviolent Drug Crimes

For too many people convicted of nonviolent drug-related crimes, a felony conviction and resulting incarceration can substantially interfere with the ability to parent their children and support their families. Incarcerated parents without family supports may have to place their children in foster care while incarcerated, and risk losing custody permanently. Felony convictions follow a person forever, making it harder to get a job, harder to find safe housing, and harder to get financial aid for higher education. All of these things make it more difficult for parents to maintain healthy relationships with their children, to support them, and to raise them in safe, healthy environments. This law would reclassify certain non-violent drug crimes as misdemeanors, allowing law enforcement to get involved without crippling a person’s ability to raise and support their family.

 These laws, and many other newly-enacted laws, have the potential to significantly improve the lives of Mainers and to advance Reproductive Justice in our state. We’ll keep you posted as the story unfolds in the coming months!

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