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Abortion opponents rally at Maine State House as more political battles loom

Hundreds of abortion opponents rallied at the State House on Tuesday April 4, 2023 and pledged to fight against efforts to expand access in Maine five months after abortion was a major issue in the gubernatorial and legislative elections.
Kevin Miller
/
Maine Public
Hundreds of abortion opponents rallied at the State House on Tuesday April 4, 2023 and pledged to fight against efforts to expand access in Maine five months after abortion was a major issue in the gubernatorial and legislative elections.

Hundreds of abortion opponents rallied at the State House on Tuesday and pledged to fight against efforts to expand access in Maine five months after abortion was a major issue in the gubernatorial and legislative elections.

Several speakers remarked that last year's Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade has allowed Maine's annual anti-abortion rally to literally come in out of the cold. For decades, abortion opponents have gathered outside in the middle of January during an annual "Hands Around the Capitol" event. So Karen Vachon, executive director of Maine Right to Life, said this year's boisterous, indoor rally under the State House dome was in part a celebration. But Vachon added that it was also part preparation for the ongoing political battle over abortion in left-leaning Maine.

"We cannot afford to let a well-funded, pro-abortion lobby influence our elections, buy up our politicians and we must hold the Mills administration accountable,” Vachon said. “Governor Mills made a campaign promise that she wouldn’t expand abortion in Maine. She lied. This is not the way life should be. She is turning Maine-Vacationland into Maine-Abortionland. Is this what we want?”

The crowd packed in the Hall of Flags – just outside of the governor’s office – shouted back “No!” to the rhetorical question.

Abortion was a key issue during the 2022 campaign that saw Mills, a staunch supporter of abortion rights, win a second term over former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, an opponent of abortion. Democrats also retained control of the Legislature, ensuring that the abortion restrictions being adopted in more conservative states post-Roe would not be coming to Maine. But that doesn’t mean abortion won’t be a lightning rod issue once again at the State House this year.

Mills and Democratic legislative leaders are pushing to eliminate restrictions on later-term abortions that are deemed medically necessary. During her campaign, Mills said she would not seek to change Maine’s roughly 30-year-old law guaranteeing women a right to seek an abortion in this state up to the point of fetal viability, which is generally around 22 to 24 weeks, and after that to preserve the life or health of the mother. But the proposal put forward by Mills, House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland and Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash would allow women to obtain an abortion later in a pregnancy if a doctor or medical professional says the procedure is necessary.

As Mills did when announcing the legislation, her office pointed to the story of a Yarmouth woman who had to travel to Colorado – at significant cost, both personal and financial – or order to receive an abortion after the fetus was discovered to have a rare, fatal genetic mutation. No doctors would perform the procedure in Maine because of the state’s restrictions.

“The legislation is consistent with the governor’s fundamental belief – which she has long discussed -- that these decisions should be made by a woman and her medical provider, not by politicians,” Mills spokesman Ben Goodman said in a statement. “Dana’s painful experience shows us that there is more we can do to protect and support Maine people seeking abortion care. No Maine person should have to leave our state, the comfort of their family or friends, and have to potentially spend thousands of dollars just to access the care they need. This bill removes barriers to care and makes clear that, in Maine, the decision to have an abortion is for a woman and her medical provider to make.”

But Rep. Amy Arata, a New Gloucester Republican who serves as her party’s assistant leader in the Maine House, told the rally attendees that it is incumbent on abortion opponents to approach people on the other side “with love.”

“We need to be very clear that being pro-life is about love and not about judging or controlling women,” Arata said. “We actually believe that women deserve better.”