Health

What It's Like to Get an Abortion in Maine

Maine is one of several states that moved to expand, not restrict, abortion access in the last year.
February 20, 2020, 1:50pm
Whats-its-Like-To-Get-an-Abortion-in-Maine
Collage by Vice Staff | Images via Shutterstock

While a string of right-leaning states attempted to ban abortion outright in the spring of 2019, Maine’s governor, Janet Mills, signed legislation intended to increase the number of abortion providers. Before June, only physicians could perform abortions in Maine, but the new law expanded that pool to include nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, and other trained medical practitioners. This law applies to both medication abortion and in-clinic procedures, and when it passed, stood to increase the number of facilities offering aspiration abortion (the most common procedure for abortion up to 16 weeks) from three to 18.

That’s crucial for Maine, a large rural state where the bulk of healthcare providers are clustered in three cities: Augusta, the state capitol; Portland; and Bangor. The spotty access meant many prospective patients had to drive hundreds of miles to reach their nearest clinic, although in 2014, Maine Family Planning affiliates began offering telehealth services for medication abortion; since then, about a quarter of the group's abortions happen via video conference.

Also in June 2019, Mills signed legislation obligating all insurance plans—public and private—to cover abortion if they also covered prenatal care. Before that, state Medicaid only covered termination when pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or endangered the patient’s life.

Here’s what Maine state law says about abortion:

Right now, Maine restricts abortion only after viability (around 24 weeks), banning the procedure at or after that point unless the patient’s life or health is in danger.

How old do you have to be to get an abortion in Maine?

People under 18 need written consent from one parent or adult family member unless the abortion provider determines the minor is mentally and physically competent to give informed consent. This requirement is waived if the pregnancy threatens the teen's health or if the teen gets permission from a judge in what's known as a judicial bypass.

How much does it cost to get an abortion in Maine?

Cost depends on how far along the pregnancy is and whether or not you have insurance. You can ask on the phone before scheduling an appointment what the cost might look like.

Where can you get an abortion in Maine?

The National Abortion Federation has a list of abortion providers in Maine.

What is it like seeking an abortion in Maine?

This is one person’s story.

Lucy was 22 years old when she found out she was pregnant, “technically on purpose,” she told VICE. Her partner—15 years older than her and already a father—“desperately” wanted her to have a baby, and would not use contraception of any kind. “Looking back,” she continued, “our relationship had a billion red flags, in terms of mental and borderline physical abuse. A lot of manipulation and physical threats and creating tight spaces.” When she figured out that her own wishes had very little bearing on the trajectory of the relationship, and when she realized she was not prepared to be a 23-year-old single mother, Lucy decided to get an abortion. Knowing her partner would not support the decision, she chose to tell him over the phone, shortly before the procedure: “He basically convinced me that he…had a knife to his throat....When I said that this was the decision I was going to make, he pretended to slit his throat and dropped the knife and the phone and convinced me that he had killed himself. It was really fucked.”

When she was about nine weeks along, she made the 45-minute trip from the town where she lived at the time to the Portland Planned Parenthood clinic. Here’s what it was like. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When did you find out you were pregnant?

I found out I was pregnant in early March 2017. I had taken a home pregnancy test after I missed my period. It came back positive, and I set up a doctor’s appointment. It was probably only two or three weeks between when I first thought that I might be pregnant, and then waiting to take a pregnancy test, and then waiting to meet with my doctor. In the moment, it felt like an eternity.

When did you decide to get an abortion? How long did it take to get an appointment?

Within probably a week of that doctor’s appointment, I knew that I wanted an abortion and called to set up an appointment. Then there were some delays: I had to wait for the pregnancy to be visible on an ultrasound, and they scheduled me for the earliest available time once they knew it would be. They only do abortions once a week, and that was the only provider available to me. By the time that was all said and done, I think I was closer to nine weeks. I was getting pretty close [to the 10-week cutoff for medication abortion].

There’s an abortion provider in the Bangor area, which would’ve been a two-plus-hour drive, and then somewhere in the Boston area, maybe? But again, that’s another two-hour drive. In terms of what I had available for time, with work, and being able to have someone drive me, I couldn’t really go much further than Portland.

How much did the abortion cost, and how much did you have to pay out of pocket?

I remember going through my insurance and trying to figure out what parts of it were covered. My out of pocket cost was $550, which was so much money at the time.


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Did you have a counseling appointment?

I didn’t have to do a counseling appointment, but there are different steps along the way and different people you talk to. There’s someone who takes your blood type and they do an ultrasound in a different room, and there was definitely a person who was specifically like, “Where are you at mentally with this whole situation, what’s happening in your life?” Like a mental health check-in. It didn’t feel particularly judgmental or intrusive, but it’s obviously a somewhat vulnerable and intimate decision, so relaying that to any sort of stranger in the moment feels intense.

What was the day of the procedure like?

At the time, my partner who had gotten me pregnant, there were concerns that he may be at the clinic to try to interfere with the procedure. My dad drove me to Portland, he’s my number-one supporter so that felt like a really healthy decision.

I remember being in the office getting my blood drawn, and I could hear the protesters on the street. And I remember wanting to be like, "isn’t there a law where I shouldn’t have to hear these people screaming on the streets?" Another thing that I really remember from it was getting an ultrasound, and the tech asked me if I wanted to know if there were multiple pregnancies, if I were having twins. It had never crossed my mind. My mom’s a twin, and that was for some reason the only moment when I doubted [my decision]. Something about having twins felt really different. I just opted to not know, it seemed easier.

Leaving the center and getting berated by protesters was really a test, and when I see them on the street, I can’t help but feel so infuriated by it. Of all the things that come with abortion, that’s one I wish I could really change. It’s such a sensitive moment, and you don’t get time to really process before you have to leave, and then you’re just immediately hit with this wave of people telling you you’re the worst person ever. It’s something I wish I could protect people from.

I got a medication abortion. I took my first pill at the clinic in the morning—my appointment was pretty early that Friday—and then I think I took the second pill kind of as soon as I could, and went through the abortion home. Within 24 hours I was back at work. I work at bars and restaurants, so weekends are fair game for me.

What did it feel like?

I had done a lot of online research, trying to figure out what to expect. I wish that there were more things online about how easy it would be. For me it felt very similar to a really intense period. I took long hot showers, I sat with a heating pad for a while, I wore sweatpants. I have an older sister and she hung out with me for most of the time. The most memorable moment was actually passing the pregnancy. It’s powerful. It felt really freeing, like my body had been working up to that. I recognized it right away and felt relieved. There’s something human about it and physical about it, when the rest feels so emotional and mental. That really brought me back into my body.

Is there anything else you want to share about your experience?

The biggest takeaway for me from my abortion experience was balancing my past of being such an outspoken reproductive justice and abortion rights activist [in college], with going through the actual process of getting an abortion. The complexities of it, emotionally and physically and in the context of whatever relationship you might be in, it’s not always so cut and dry as I thought that it would be when I was advocating for the right for other people. It was a big turning point for me in a really good way, but one that I don’t think I could’ve ever expected. But I don’t know where I would be now if I had not had an abortion. Absolutely the right decision, 100 percent, I can’t imagine my life without having had that abortion. Terrifying to think of.

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.