Kentucky attorney general among those warning Maine not to enact medical shield law

Republished from Kentucky Lantern


Kentucky’s Russell Coleman is among 16 state attorneys general threatening legal action if Maine enacts a law shielding its medical providers from penalties for providing reproductive and gender-affirming care to residents of other states.

The Republican attorneys general assert such a law would be “extraterritorial bullying” and “could also trigger a rapid tit-for-tat escalation that tears apart our Republic.” 

​​The Maine legislature is debating a bill that would ensure out-of-state patients and Maine medical professionals aren’t penalized by other states’ laws against abortion and gender-affirming treatments.

“We will not allow laws like LD 227 to deter us from protecting the integrity of our States’ democratic processes. If Maine pursues LD 227’s constitutionally defective approach, we will vigorously avail ourselves of every recourse our Constitution provides,” says the letter dated March 11 on Tennessee AG Jonathan Skrmetti’s letterhead.

It is addressed to Maine’s Gov. Janet T. Mills, Attorney General Aaron Frey, and the top leaders of Maine’s Senate and House.

On Tuesday, Frey, Maine’s attorney general, called the claims “meritless” and an attempt to intimidate proponents of the proposed shield law.

Frey cited Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attempt to subpoena records from a children’s hospital in Seattle, Washington, that Paxton alleged violated Texas law by providing gender affirming care to Texas youths.

“Unfortunately, shield laws have become necessary due to efforts in some objecting states to punish beyond their borders lawful behavior that occurs in Maine and other States,” Frey wrote.

He also dismissed the Republican AGs’ claim that LD 227 would be unconstitutional “because Maine will honor out-of-state judgments as long as they were issued in accord with basic requirements for due process and the court had sufficient jurisdiction.” 

Frey added, “Harmony between our states would be best preserved and promoted by the exercise of restraint by all parties seeking to control health care related policy choices in other states.”

If the bill becomes law, Maine would join other Democratic-led states that have enacted laws shielding providers and out-of-state patients from prosecution or other action by states that have enacted abortion bans and limits on transgender care.  “Shield laws” protect medical providers and in some cases, volunteers and patients, from legal or professional consequences from other states’ bans on certain types of health care. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 22 states and Washington, D.C. have passed shield laws protecting abortion and eleven of those states and D.C. also have protections specifically for gender-affirming care.

Kentucky has enforced  an almost-total ban on abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in 2022. Last year the legislature banned gender-affirming medical care for minors. 

Maine lawmakers are also considering additional reproductive rights bills. One proposal would enshrine the right to reproductive autonomy in the state Constitution while another would require insurance providers to cover over-the-counter contraceptives without passing along costs to customers.    

In Kentucky, bills to add exceptions for rape and incest to the state’s abortion ban have not been given a hearing by legislative leaders.

The Maine Morning Star contributed to this report.

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