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Mills, congressional delegation denounce Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe

Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court's landmark abortion cases.
Jacquelyn Martin
Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court's landmark abortion cases.

Maine's governor and members of the state's congressional delegation responded with anger and outrage Friday to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

While the decision is unlikely to immediately impact access to abortion in Maine, abortion is likely to be a top issue in state elections this fall.

Standing inside her State House office, Gov. Janet Mills was visibly angry and frustrated by the decision ending federal protections for abortion. The Democrat also said she found it "appalling" and "disgusting" that, in eyes of the majority of justices, reproductive rights were not among the rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment when it was adopted in 1868.

"Really? We need to go back hundreds of years, dozens of years, centuries to rely on some theory that women's rights were not embedded in the Constitution so we have none today?” Mills said. “Seriously?"

Friday's Supreme Court ruling will have no immediate impact on access to abortion in Maine. That's because, nearly 30 years ago, a Republican governor worked with both parties in the Legislature to enact a law guaranteeing a woman's right to obtain an abortion until viability. Abortion politics have changed dramatically since then, however, and earlier this spring Republicans attending the party's state convention adopted a platform declaring that life begins at conception.

With Mills in office and Democrats in control of the Legislature, there is little chance of imminent restrictions on access to abortion in Maine. And Mills said she will look at ways to protect medical providers as well as their patients, regardless of where they come from.

"This decision doesn't get rid of abortion,” Mills said. “This decision simply gets rid of safe and legal abortion in dozens of states across this country. Not in this state. I will not let that happen in this state."

Members of Maine's congressional delegation also strongly criticized the ruling.

Democratic Rep. Rep. Jared Golden in Maine's 2nd District said the courts decision is wrong on principle and wrong on the merits.

“In many parts of the country, there will be serious and harmful consequences for millions of women,” Golden said in a statement. “Here in Maine, the reproductive healthcare decisions of women remain protected under current state law. Today’s decision should remind us just how important it is to fight for state legislative majorities that will safeguard the right of a woman to make private decisions about her body.”

Independent Sen. Angus King called it a "dangerous, blatantly political ruling" that will penalize women who happen to live in states where the procedure will be banned.

“The right to a safe, legal abortion has been reaffirmed by the Court time and time again – but this new majority has decided to overwrite longstanding precedent to impose their own personal and religious views on women across the country,” King said in a statement. “This ruling goes against the wishes of the majority of Americans, and lays a terrifying groundwork for this Court to unravel many other hard-earned civil rights in the years ahead.”

Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine's 1st District called the ruling "catastrophic" ruling and added that government control of reproduction is quote "downright totalitarian." Pingree and other female members of Congress joined abortion rights supporters outside of the Supreme Court after the ruling on Friday.

“Six radical justices, appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, have destroyed nearly 50 years of established legal precedent upon which tens of millions of people in this country have relied,” Pingree said in a statement. “In Roe’s place, the justices’ personal beliefs will impose unimaginable suffering for women and families across the country and worsen America’s already abysmal generational poverty crisis.”

Sen. Susan Collins, who is one of the few Republicans in Congress who support preserving access to abortion, accused the Supreme Court of abandoning a 50-year precedent at a time when she says the country needs stability. Collins also reiterates that Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch's votes' to overturn Roe were "inconsistent" with their statements to her prior to Senate confirmation about their respect for court precedent.

“This ill-considered action will further divide the country at a moment when, more than ever in modern times, we need the Court to show both consistency and restraint,” Collins said in a statement. “Throwing out a precedent overnight that the country has relied upon for half a century is not conservative. It is a sudden and radical jolt to the country that will lead to political chaos, anger, and a further loss of confidence in our government.”

Collins also pointed to her efforts, alongside fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, to pass a bill to guarantee access to abortion in federal law. Collins has opposed a more sweeping codification bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House, however. And she is working with Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia of a different codification measure. But any such effort would need the support of at least 10 Republicans in the Senate to overcome a GOP filibuster.

Meanwhile, Friday’s ruling will once again put Collins under intense because many progressives and abortion rights defenders blame her for casting the pivotal vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

Abortion opponents in Maine celebrated the ruling.

In a statement, the Maine Right to Life Committee called the decision quote "a victory for women, the unborn and the pro-Life movement." The organization also says that by returning the decision to states, the court is undercutting abortion supporters claims that reversing Roe would automatically outlaw abortion. And it pointed to technological advances that have changed when a baby is considered viable.

“In this age of promoting choice to women facing unplanned pregnancy, women deserve to know all of their choices – that they have options, and that abortion is not women’s reproductive healthcare,” Maine Right to Life said in the statement. “Knowledge is power, and many people have come to see this issue differently based on what they have come to know and experience.”

In a Facebook live video with the anti-abortion Family Policy Alliance, Carroll Conley with the Christian Civic League of Maine said he sees "tremendous opportunity" in Maine headed into the November elections.

"We are already on the phone with legislators and candidates this morning, talking about going after the low-hanging fruit here in Maine,” Conley said. “Unfortunately two years ago we passed a law that allowed tax-funded abortions in our state so I said let's go, let's put the ax to that right away."

The reaction from Republican leaders was more muted, however.

A spokesman for former Gov. Paul LePage, who is running this November against Mills, referred reporters to a month-old statement in which he opposes taxpayer funded abortions and say he has a "proven history of supporting life."

And Maine Republican Party chairwoman Demi Kouzounas acknowledged the divergent opinions in society on abortion but says the GOP is focused on more immediate concerns, such as high gas prices and inflation.

"This decision empowers states to determine their own laws on this controversial topic, and Mainers have weighed in time and time again,” Kouzounas said. “I'm pro-life, but I know that there may be some who are upset and some who are excited right now. I certainly understand that reaction given the nature of this topic, though it appears that this ruling will have little impact in Maine.”

Underscoring how both parties understand the rallying-power of the abortion issue, however, Kouzounas has also previously sent out email blasts to Republicans, asking for donations to help recruit, train and elect anti-abortion candidates.

Governor Mills, meanwhile, suggested that Friday's ruling should play a major role in how people vote this November.

"It's not a partisan issue but, by God, people better understand where their candidates stand this fall,” Mills said. “Because voters have a choice this fall, in this state and every state."

Public polling has consistently shown that the majority of Maine residents support preserving legal access to abortion.