Legislative attack on Planned Parenthood in Maine seems less likely

Rep. Espling speaks at an anti-Planned Parenthood press conference in October, 2015 | Still of NECN TV coverage

Rep. Espling speaks at an anti-Planned Parenthood press conference in October, 2015 | Still of NECN TV coverage

Last year, following the release of secretly-recorded videos that purported to show illegal or unethical activity by employees of Planned Parenthood, several Republican lawmakers in Maine announced that they would be introducing legislation targeting the organization’s clinics in Maine.

The legislators made a series of lurid and baseless claims. Three of them even falsely wrote, in an op-ed published in the Lewiston Sun Journal, that Planned Parenthood was “deliberately removing baby organs and body parts and selling them on the open market.”

The proposed bills to investigate and defund the health care clinics were shot down by Democrats on the Legislative Council in October, but it still seemed likely that one or more similar measures would be introduced by Governor Paul LePage. LePage is a staunch opponent of abortion rights and as governor has the power to bypass the approval process and send bills directly to committees.

After Legislative Council rejected her bill targeting Planned Parenthood, Rep. Ellie Espling, the Assistant Minority Leader in the House, claimed in an op-ed in the Kennebec Journal that the women’s health organization was “engaging in the sale of aborted fetal tissue and body parts” and that “after seeing these videos, we legislators are required to act.”

Just two weeks ago, at an anti-abortion rally where she shared a podium with Governor LePage, Espling insisted that Planned Parenthood should be defunded.

Now that investigations across the country have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing and a grand jury in Texas has indicted two of the creators of the misleading videos on felony charges, however, Maine legislation on the issue seems less likely.

When asked this week if, following the investigations and the indictments, she still believed that the videos showed illegal activity and would continue to push for defunding, Espling struck a much less strident tone. She also seemed to preclude having her proposed legislation introduced by Governor LePage.

“I will continue to watch the issue and follow it at the federal level. At this time and during our current session I do not intend to push further for anything here in Maine but I can’t speak for any other legislators,” wrote Espling by email. “Several bills were not allowed in through leg council, as to be expected, so to pursue anything legislatively right now really would not be feasible.”

In a press statement released this week, Maine First District Congressional Representative Chellie Pingree said she hoped anti-Planned Parenthood legislation at the national level, which has advanced much further than it has in Maine, (thanks in part to the votes of her House colleague Rep. Bruce Poliquin) would be similarly discarded.

“Anti-abortion activists have demanded investigations and that’s exactly what they got—an investigation by a Republican District Attorney and a grand jury that found it was the activists who were lying and breaking the law, not Planned Parenthood,” said Pingree. “I hope now my Republican colleagues in Congress will finally give up their repeated attempts to use this discredited smear campaign as an excuse to defund Planned Parenthood and take away access to birth control, family planning and basic health care for millions of Americans.”

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike is Maine's longest-writing political blogger and explores state politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center.