It would appear that changes are coming to Maine’s abortion laws, though it remains unclear just what the full breadth of the changes will be. Last night, the Maine House concluded a very tight and contentious vote to pass a bill that would allow abortions at any stage in a woman’s pregnancy under certain circumstances. (We’ll get back to what that might mean in a moment.) The measure in the House only passed by five votes. It has to be returned to the Senate where it previously passed before going to the desk of the Governor, who sponsored the bill. So while greatly contested, it appears that this will become the law of the land in Maine. And it was probably no coincidence that the vote was taken only one day after the anniversary of the ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Womens Health.

The Maine House voted Tuesday night to enact a bill to expand access to abortions, putting the proposal one final vote away from going to the governor for her signature.

The Senate, which supported the bill in an initial vote Tuesday, must cast a final vote on the legislation that’d give the state one of the least restrictive abortion laws in the country.

The House vote, 73-69, capped an emotional day that included demonstrators against the bill holding signs, singing hymns and chanting “kill the bill!” in the State House hallways.

This legislation seems rather vague, perhaps purposefully so. As to what is being changed, the state’s current law allows abortions until the baby is “viable outside the womb” at roughly 24 weeks or six months. In other words, it allows the procedure in the first two trimesters, but not the third. There is an exception in the current law for conditions that put the mother’s life at risk.

Under the new law, there would still be a cap at 24 weeks, but would allow exceptions after that “if deemed medically necessary by a doctor.” But what does that even mean? Are there reasons other than endangering the life of the mother that would apply? I suppose if something went terribly wrong and the fetus was no longer viable, that might apply. One of the bill’s sponsors, state Senator Jill Dusan seemed to suggest that. She said the bill was intended to help women “who face the unimaginable.”

But if that was the true intent of the bill (and the only intent) why not expand the current language to simply exempt conditions that place “the mother’s life or the baby’s life at risk?” That seems as if it would offer a lot more clarity.

We can also look at the worst-case scenario that might arise from this vague-sounding language. What if a woman is well along into the third trimester and then decides for some non-medical reason that she doesn’t want to go through with it? (That could involve a divorce, a new job offer, or just a case of prenatal freaking out.) Couldn’t she shop around and find a sympathetic doctor who would be willing to “deem the abortion medically necessary?” The doctor could cite mental health issues or stress as the reason to perform the procedure, even if they don’t work in the mental health side of the profession.

I remain unsure, but it’s not difficult to see why there were so many vocal protests against this new bill. It would also explain how it only managed to pass the House by such a slim margin. If my “worst-case” scenario above turns out to be accurate, this really sounds like it could wind up being a get-out-of-jail-free card for doctors in Maine and provide a back door around the existing restrictions.