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Looming decision on Roe v. Wade is already impacting politics in Maine

abortion rally 3.jpg
Patty Wight
Maine Public
An abortion rights Portland rally on May 3, 2022. Though Maine has state-level protections and could serve as a refuge for women from elsewhere in the U.S., providers are worried that access here could be stripped away by any future change in the state’s political landscape

An anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down Roe v. Wade may not have an immediate impact on women's right to access abortion here in Maine but could impact this fall's elections in Maine. And the outcome of those elections could, in turn, affect future abortion policy in the state.

Michael McClellan, policy director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said he was as surprised as everyone else to see the leaked draft opinion that would strike down the federal constitutional protections for abortion.

"Obviously, what we saw we liked, if it's reality,” McClellan said.

The Christian Civic League is a conservative activist group that describes itself as bringing "a Biblical perspective to policy issues" in Maine. The league helps organize annual rallies against abortion in Augusta that often draw hundreds of attendees and many of the state's conservative, anti-abortion rights politicians. And while McClellan acknowledges that Maine is not Mississippi or Texas – two of the states leading the push to severely restrict access to abortion – he sees opportunities for changing direction in Maine as Republicans aim to take back the governor's mansion and potentially the Legislature this November.

"As it was, it was going to be pretty exciting and busy,” McClellan said of the 2022 elections in Maine. “This will certainly add to that. And I guess . . . you almost have to wait until November 8 to see which side is able to take advantage, if this is the decision."

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, meanwhile, called the draft decision "an extremist view that should not be tolerated" and one that undermines the integrity of the court as well as women’s constitutional rights. Mills is vowing to do everything in her power to prevent any rollbacks of abortion law in Maine.

"If the majority of the court follow that draft opinion by Justice Alito, then the governors and lawmakers of the various states will become the backstop,” Mills said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “And I pledge that as long as I'm governor, access to abortion care will be safe and legal in Maine, just as it is now. We will not go backwards."

Maine's first female governor, Mills ran for office pledging to expand access to reproductive care, not reduce it. And during her first few years in office, she worked with Democrats in the Legislature to expand the list of health care professionals who can offer abortion services and to require both private insurers and Medicaid cover the procedure.

But Mills is facing what is expected to be a tough reelection fight against former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who is an abortion opponent.

LePage's campaign did not make him available for an interview on Tuesday. In a statement, the former governor did not specifically mention the leaked draft decision but noted that Maine state law “already prohibits abortion after viability and our laws should keep pace with modern, medical technology.” LePage also said he has "a proven history of supporting Life" and, in a potential reference to the upcoming elections for the Legislature, he noted that governors can only sign bills sent to them by their local lawmakers.

“In Maine, our local officials listen to the people,” LePage said. “As governor, I have a proven history of supporting Life, including helping our most vulnerable women and children facing domestic abuse to our vulnerable senior citizens.”

Mills is also focused on the upcoming election, and not just her race.

"Every voter should ask every candidate for every office this year, more than any other year, what their view is and will they uphold their right to reproductive health care, or not,” Mills said.

In polls over the years, a majority of Maine voters have consistently supported preserving a woman's right to access abortion. The last time that Republicans captured both the Blaine House and both chambers of the Legislature was in 2010 when LePage won his first term as governor. But LePage and GOP lawmakers were unable to win approval for several bills aimed at imposing additional requirements on women seeking an abortion.

But Democratic Rep. Jay McCreight of Harpswell, who is a vocal defender of abortion rights in the Legislature, said people should not be complacent. McCreight says that in her view, Maine has done a good job of protecting access to abortion but she agreed with Mills that voters need to press every candidate on their stance.

After all, she says, abortion is a "core issue."

"It’s about dignity and agency and health care and basic rights,” McCreight said. “So it gets to the core of what's very important to people. And I think people will be energized. It's too important not to be."