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Politics

Abortion-rights advocates warn a resurgent GOP could overturn Maine laws protecting access

Maine Republican Convention
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
Republican candidate for governor Paul LePage speaks at the Republican state convention, Saturday, April 30, 2022, in Augusta, Maine. In a statement, LePage recently reaffirmed his "proven history of supporting life."

Maine has some of the most lenient abortion laws in the country, including one that would protect access to the procedure if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade.

But Democrats and abortion-rights advocates are mobilizing anyway, and warning that the state's abortion laws could be replaced by restrictions if Republicans, including former Gov. Paul LePage, can reclaim control of state government in November.

Demonstrations about the seemingly imminent demise of Roe v. Wade have intensified here ever since the publication of a draft of the Supreme Court’s opinion that overturns the landmark decision that has long prohibited states from outlawing abortion.

At a recent protest in Portland, resident Heather Jamieson worried that her daughters might not have access to a procedure that has been legal for nearly 50 years.

"I have two daughters. I'm worried for my daughters, I'm worried for their friends, I'm worried for my grandchildren. Banning abortion does not stop abortion. It only creates unsafe abortions," she said.

Nicole Clegg, of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said abortion-rights supporters have cause for concern.

"I mean, people are going to be harmed by what could be potentially happening here," she said.

Clegg said her organization is preparing for an influx of abortion patients from the 24 states poised to outlaw the procedure if Roe falls.

She said she has already seen an uptick in patients from Texas, which has been living with the most restrictive abortion law since last September.

Maine has a 28-year-old law signed by a Republican governor that protects access to abortions no matter what the Supreme Court decides.

But Clegg warned that it too could be overturned if an anti-abortion governor and Legislature take power in November.

"They're laws. They're subject to repeal. Elections matter. Who's in the Blaine House matters. Who's in our House and Senate matters. They will be the ones deciding who has access and who doesn't," she said.

"I pledge to the people of Maine, so 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," said Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills.

Like many Democratic candidates facing elections this year, Mills has positioned herself as a champion of abortion rights in a state that has long supported upholding Roe v. Wade.

That could boost her reelection chances made uncertain by significant headwinds, including President Joe Biden's low approval rating, voter concerns over inflation and an enthusiasm gap with a motivated Republican base.

The Maine GOP is also hoping the return of LePage — a conservative firebrand often described as a Donald Trump prototype — will energize support for its entire ticket of candidates.

"The choice in November is very clear. I stand for faith, freedom and trusting the Maine people," he said.

LePage's campaign declined a request for an interview, but he recently released a statement reaffirming his "proven history of supporting life."

It left the door open to changing Maine's abortion laws without specifically saying how.

"I think we can safely say we've obviously seen him as an ally on life and issues like that," said Mike McClellan, a former Republican legislator who now works for Christian Civic League of Maine, a conservative activist group that describes itself as bringing "a Biblical perspective to policy issues."

The group is staunchly anti-abortion, and influential in the Republican party here.

"Our look is to the day that there's just no abortions at all in Maine and that they're not needed," McClellan said.

Maine is one of the most secular states in the country, but the religious right here punches above its weight in numbers with pew-to-polls activism and turnout.

McClellan says anti-abortion candidates are winning elections, and as a result, Republican legislators are more unified in restricting abortion access than they were just a few years ago when proposals backed by LePage fell to bipartisan opposition.

The Maine GOP recently endorsed a policy that protects life "from conception" and McClellan said he anticipates a wide slate of anti-abortion bills if Republicans gain control of the State House.

"I mean all the polls suggest that even people that support abortion want limits to it," he said.

So far, Republican candidates seem poised to rely on voters' complex abortion views and their own vague plans to ride out the backlash in a post-Roe world.

Democrats like Mills are framing access to the procedure as fundamental to a woman's right to self-determination, while also foreshadowing potential threats to buying contraception, or marriage between interracial or same-sex couples.

"This draft opinion declares there's basically no right of privacy in the U.S. Constitution. That's extraordinary and extreme. It's an extremist view and it shouldn't be tolerated and I won't tolerate it at the state level," Mills said.

A recent poll taken before the release of the draft opinion showed her in a statistical dead heat with LePage.