Fiery debate over proposed shield law leads to rare censure in Maine House

AUGUSTA, Maine — Fiery debate over a bill to protect health care workers who provide abortion and gender-affirming care from out-of-state lawsuits crossed a line in the Maine House, leading lawmakers to formally censure a pair of colleagues on Thursday.

Rep. Michael Lemelin, R-Chelsea, said the mass shooting last October in Lewiston, Maine, that claimed 18 lives and recent storms were God’s revenge for “immoral” laws adopted by legislators, and he described the shield bill as “inspired by Lucifer himself.” Another lawmaker, Rep. Shelley Rudnicki, of Fairfield, announced that she agreed with Lemelin’s remarks.

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross told Lemelin in a letter that the remarks were “extremely offensive and intentionally harmful to the victims and the families of the Lewiston tragedy, the House of Representatives, and the people of Maine.”

Both Lemelin and Rudnicki both delivered brief, identical apologies on the House floor, allowing them to resume their ability speak and vote.

The Democratic-led chamber advanced the legislation on an 80—70 vote Wednesday evening in the House in which several Republicans focused on the underlying law that allows minors to receive abortions and gender-affirming care under certain circumstances. Critics said the bill could lead to kidnapping and trafficking of out-of-state teens.

But Democratic Rep. Sam Zager, D-Portland, said the standards of care laid out for medical providers require a robust process for whether someone has gender dysphoria and is eligible for gender-affirming care.

“This is not somebody whisked away for a weekend making a declaration and having surgery. It is very deliberate and very meticulous and is not done expediently,” said Zager, who is a physician.

The sponsor of the bill suggested lawmakers were getting sidetracked by emotional topics of abortion and gender-affirming care instead of focusing on Maine from out-of-state interference in its affairs. “This bill is about our state’s sovereign ability to set and enforce our laws without interference from Texas, Tennessee or Kentucky,” said Rep. Amy Kuhn, D-Falmouth.

Abortion is legal in Maine at all stages of pregnancy with a doctor’s approval. And lawmakers last year approved a bill to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to receive limited gender-affirming care, which does not include surgery, without parental consent.

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