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Abortion opponents won’t pursue ‘people’s veto’ of new law

Maine Gov. Janet Mills signs into law a bill expanding access to abortions later in pregnancy, Wednesday, July 19, 2023, at the State House in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
Maine Gov. Janet Mills signs into law a bill expanding access to abortions later in pregnancy, Wednesday, July 19, 2023, at the State House in Augusta, Maine.

Abortion opponents say they won't pursue a people's veto campaign to overturn a controversial new state law but will, instead, focus on getting more like-minded legislators elected next year.

Wednesday was the deadline for opponents to begin the process of challenging the recently passed bill, LD 1619, at the ballot box. The measure sponsored by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills lifts key restrictions on abortions later in a pregnancy. And while the issue had galvanized abortion opponents, a people's veto campaign would require money and a huge mobilization effort to gather nearly 68,000 petition signatures in less than three months.

“Our priority is to pursue effective and lasting change that upholds the sanctity of life beyond just one legislative measure,” said Rep. Laurel Libby, an Auburn Republican who helped organize large anti-abortion rallies at the State House through the group Speak Up for Life – Maine. “So we believe that the course that holds the greatest promise to do that is to elect principled legislators in the 2024 elections. And that’s where we will be focusing our energy, finances and attention.”

Both Speak Up for Life and a political action committee that Libby leaders, The Dinner Table PAC, are already using the passage of LD 1619 as a way to drive donations and members to the organizations. It's an attempt to reverse the election results of two years ago, when Democrats campaigned on abortion rights following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and maintained control of both chambers of the Legislature as well as the governor’s mansion. Deep-pocketed abortion rights groups, such as Planned Parenthood Action Fund, were heavily involved in the 2022 elections in Maine and would have been expected to help fight any effort to overturn the new law at the ballot box.

Libby, who ran unsuccessfully for a leadership position in the House GOP caucus this year, said she believes the Republican strategy on abortion was mistaken.

"It's yet to be seen how big of an issue this will be for voters in 2024,” Libby said. “But I think certainly a Republican error in 2022 was avoiding the issue. This is going to continue to be an issue in Maine elections and hiding from it will not make it go away. So we need to address things head-on."

Under the new law, Maine doctors will be able to perform abortions after the point of viability – generally around 24 weeks – whenever they deem the procedure to be medically necessary. Current law only allows such procedures to protect the life or health of the mother. And supporters, such as Mills and the Legislature’s Democratic leadership, argued that those restrictions have forced some Maine women to have to travel to other states – far from their support networks and at consideration financial expense – to terminate a pregnancy after the fetus has been diagnosed with a fatal condition.

The bill was the most contentious issue of the 2023 session as bill opponents portrayed it as an “extreme” measure that could allow abortions right up to the point of birth for reasons other than a fatal fetal anomaly. The bill narrowly passed the House on a vote of 73-69 and then passed the Senate on a vote of 20-11.