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How Roe v. Wade's likely fall could play out in Maine

Supreme Court Abortion
Alex Brandon
Demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday, May 5, 2022 in Washington. A draft opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a Politico report released Monday. Whatever the outcome, the Politico report represents an extremely rare breach of the court's secretive deliberation process, and on a case of surpassing importance.

In this week's Pulse: Maine braces for the fall of Roe v. Wade, Collins again haunted by Kavanaugh vote and Mills outraises LePage.

The anticipated overturning of the nearly 50-year-old Supreme Court decision that has barred states from outlawing abortion would upend and scatter women’s access to the procedure, while potentially shaking up midterm election contests nationally and in Maine.


The focus of abortion rights advocates in Maine is similarly twofold, with providers planning for a steep increase in women traveling to Maine to access the procedure, while also encouraging voters who support abortion access to elect like-minded candidates so that Maine’s laws protecting that access are not repealed.

Organizations like Planned Parenthood continue to prepare for the possibility that abortion providers here will see a surge in patients if the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling is overturned, as foreshadowed in this week’s draft opinion leak published by Politico. The anticipated influx of women coming here for the procedure stems from the fact that 24 states could soon ban abortion, including 12 states with so-called trigger laws that would automatically prohibit abortion if Roe falls.

Nicole Clegg, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, reiterated this week that Maine abortion providers are already seeing an increase in patients from Texas, which since Sept. 1 has the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws.

Maine’s potential role as a refuge for abortion patients is rooted in its permissive laws, including one initiated by a Republican governor that enshrined protections for women seeking the procedure. That same law will preserve abortion if Roe is overturned.

But, as Clegg told reporters this week, those protections aren’t permanent.

“While we have these protections and we celebrate them in Maine, they're laws. They're subject to repeal," Clegg said. "Who's in the Blaine House matters. Who's in our House and Senate matters. They'll be the ones deciding who has access and who doesn't."

Clegg’s remarks were a clear reference to the upcoming midterm election. While there is genuine fear among abortion rights advocates about a post-Roe future, its potential demise might generate enthusiasm among disenchanted Democratic voters.

This week’s leak offered a preview of sorts, as abortion rights advocates staged demonstrations in Maine and across the country to protest Roe’s demise. Democratic politicians and aspiring officeholders responded in near tandem, firing off statements, vowing to protect abortion and reminding voters that granting Republicans control of state legislatures and governorships would invite ruin for women’s access.

“Well, I want to be very clear: unlike an apparent majority of the Supreme Court, I do not consider the rights of women to be dispensable. And I pledge that as long as I am Governor, I will fight with everything I have to protect reproductive rights and to preserve access to reproductive health care in the face of every and any threat to it – whether from politicians in Augusta or Supreme Court Justices in Washington,” Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement released shortly after Politico’s story was published.

Mills reiterated that stance in a brief interview with Maine Public.

"If the majority of the court follow that draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, then the governors and lawmakers of the various states will become the backstop,” she said.

Mills, facing a tough reelection fight this year, is positioning herself as that backstop. It’s not a new position for her. The governor has long backed abortion rights and her stance has come with significant financial support from groups like Planned Parenthood Action and Emily’s List, organizations expected to spend heavily in this year’s midterms boosting candidates who support abortion.

By contrast, Mills’ opponent, former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, is anti-abortion. Yet, he, like other Republican candidates, were not publicly celebrating this week’s leak of the court’s draft opinion. Instead, he released a statement declaring his opposition to “taxpayer funded abortions” (already prohibited by federal law) and late-term abortions (abortion is allowed in Maine until fetal viability — about 23 weeks — and the procedure is only allowed after that when the patient’s life or health are threatened).

LePage also appeared to suggest that any rollback of abortion access would come from the Legislature even though governors and state agencies can also submit bills (all bills must have a legislative sponsor, which is a very low bar to clear).

“In Maine, our local officials listen to the people,” he 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.”

LePage’s uncharacteristic caution is likely attributed to public sentiment. Polls show that Mainers are widely supportive of abortion rights and it’s also one of the more secular states in the country (Pew ranked it 48th in religiosity in 2016, a dated survey but a good benchmark).

Still, public opinion surveys are not always great at catching the subtleties and nuances of controversial issues. And people’s views about issues like abortion are situational and deeply personal.

"In every news article [about abortion] you look at, there's a picture of protesters. That is not representative," Tresa Undem, a pollster who specializes in abortion and gender issues, told NPR. "It's like we're constantly being reinforced that this is like this cultural divide — [that it's an] angry, yelling, emotional, complex issue. And I just don't see that when I do the research."

Maine voters have also had recent exposure to abortion as an election issue. Two years ago, Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who sided with the majority in the draft opinion, was a key line of attack by Democrats in her bid for a fifth term. The critique was undoubtedly a motivator for many Maine voters who opposed her reelection, but it wasn’t enough to defeat her.

Perhaps that’s because the fall of Roe felt too theoretical, or even unlikely, for some voters. But that could soon change if the landmark ruling is overturned by the court in June.

"That is going to break through to people," Undem said. "They don't have to read a political article. They're going to hear about it. They're going to be upset about it. They're going to be surprised by it. Maybe not shocked, but surprised."

And how voters respond could affect more than just the race for governor. It could also influence legislative contests. Every seat in the Maine Legislature is on the ballot this year.

More backlash for Collins

The release of the draft opinion overturning Roe also offered a potential preview of the blowback awaiting Collins if the court actually follows through in June.

The wave of criticism directed at Collins for voting to confirm Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch, who also sided with the majority in the draft opinion, was swift and withering.

Collins’ response to the leaked opinion — a brief statement suggesting that she was deceived by both justices during confirmation hearings and in private meetings — did little to mitigate it.

“If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office,” she said in the statement. “Obviously, we won’t know each Justice’s decision and reasoning until the Supreme Court officially announces its opinion in this case.”

Critics responded by noting that Collins had been repeatedly warned that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh posed grave threats to the Roe decision. Additionally, both justices were nominated by former President Donald Trump, who made it clear in 2016 that his picks for the Supreme Court would overturn the landmark abortion ruling. Others noted that overturning Roe has long been a project of conservative activists and not a particularly stealthy one.

Collins rejected warnings about Kavanaugh in her nearly hourlong speech announcing her intention to vote for his confirmation. During that speech she said Kavanaugh assured her that he would respect precedent.

“But someone who believes that the importance of precedent has been rooted in the Constitution would follow long-established precedent except in those rare circumstances where a decision is grievously wrong or deeply inconsistent with the law. Those are Judge Kavanaugh’s phrases,” she said.

The draft opinion supported by Kavanaugh and Gorsuch argued that Roe was “grievously wrong from the start.”

Mills maintains fundraising lead

Mills continues to outpace LePage in campaign contributions.

According to filings with the Maine Ethics Commission, the Democrat has raised more than $2.7 million through April 26, while LePage brought in $1.3 million through the same period.

Mills also reported $2 million cash on hand compared to LePage’s $855,000.

The cash raised by the two rivals isn’t predictive of race outcomes. In fact, it’s typically dwarfed by spending from groups that can raise and spend unlimited sums.

On that note, the Democratic Governors Association announced this week that it’s reserving $5 million in TV ad time for the Mills-LePage contest. It’s part of the group’s $75 million advance ad buy nationwide. The Republican Governors Association is expected to spend heavily on the race. The RGA spent $5 million boosting LePage in 2014, more than double what the candidate spent himself.

The Maine Republican Party has already announced that it plans to spend $4 million in TV ads on this year’s race.

Legislature returns

Maine lawmakers will return to Augusta Monday to deal with vetoes by Mills and any remaining bills that they plan to run.

Click here to subscribe to Maine's Political Pulse Newsletter, sent to your inbox on Friday mornings. Maine's Political Pulse was written this week political correspondent Steve Mistler and produced by digital editor Andrew Catalina. Read past editions or listen to the Political Pulse podcast at mainepublic.org/pulse.