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Opponents still mulling potential people’s veto of abortion bill

Demonstrators opposed to a bill to expand abortion access gather in the halls of the Maine State House on Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in Augusta, Maine. The Maine Senate voted to expand abortion access Tuesday following an emotional debate, advancing a proposal that would give the state one of the least restrictive abortion laws in the country.
David Sharp
/
AP
Demonstrators opposed to a bill to expand abortion access gather in the halls of the Maine State House on Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in Augusta, Maine. The Maine Senate voted to expand abortion access Tuesday following an emotional debate, advancing a proposal that would give the state one of the least restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Leaders of two groups opposed to a bill allowing abortions later in a pregnancy say they are still discussing whether to challenge the law at the ballot box.

Opponents of LD 1619 have until Wednesday, Aug. 9, to file an application with the secretary of state’s office for a people’s veto referendum to overturn the new law that narrowly passed the Legislature. They would then have just 80 days to collect 67,682 signatures from registered Maine voters in order to qualify for the March ballot.

Gov. Janet Mills and supporters say the new law will allow doctors, not politicians, to decide whether an abortion is medically necessary late in a pregnancy, typically because the fetus has a fatal condition. Current law only allows abortions beyond the general point of viability – about 24 weeks – to protect the life or health of the mother. But opponents argue that the language is so vague that it could allow abortions right up to the point of birth for reasons other than a fatal fetal anomaly.

Republican Rep. Laurel Libby of Auburn, who helped organize opposition to the bill in the Legislature, said on Thursday that her organization Speak Up For Life is still talking with other groups about whether to pursue a people's veto. Libby acknowledged the financial challenge of going up against the deep pockets of the abortion rights lobby but added that is not the only factor.

“There is a lot to consider,” Libby said.

Similarly, Mike McClellan with the Christian Civic League of Maine said there has been no decision within his organization about whether to challenge the abortion expansion law at the ballot box. But the two organizations and others were able to mobilize large numbers of opponents to LD 1619 who filled the State House hallways for weeks and caused the public hearing on the bill to stretch for 19 hours.

While polls suggest that a strong majority of Maine residents support protecting abortion access, opponents of LD 1619 have and will argue that the bill goes too far. Supporters of the measure counter that abortions late in a pregnancy are exceedingly rare but that the law should be changed to ensure that expectant mothers are not forced to endure the additional trauma of having to travel to other states – far from their support networks and at considerable expense – to terminate a pregnancy after a fetus is diagnosed with a fatal condition.

The bill passed the House on a vote of 73-69, despite the 12-seat majority held by Democrats. It passed the Senate on a vote of 20-11.