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Mainers mark 50th anniversary of Roe, call for strengthening of state abortion rights


Mainers mark 50th anniversary of Roe, call for strengthening of state abortion rights

Jan 23, 2023 | 1:10 pm ET
By Evan Popp
Mainers mark 50th anniversary of Roe, call for strengthening of state abortion rights
Mainers rally in Portland on Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade | Courtesy Maine Planned Parenthood Action Fund

Mainers came out in force Sunday, despite snowy weather, to mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion across the country and to protest the overturning of that decision and federal reproductive health rights in June by a conservative-led Supreme Court. 

Around 100 people rallied in Portland in a demonstration organized by the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund. And people across the state, including Gov. Janet Mills, put lit candles in their windows to show solidarity with the fight for abortion rights and to symbolize that the movement still burns bright despite the overturning of Roe and the fact that one in three women across the country have already lost the right to bodily autonomy.

In Maine, abortion remains legal. However, advocates and demonstrators on Sunday urged the state to expand access and protection to reproductive health care.  

“Mainers made their voices heard today through shining their lights, wherever they live in Maine, on the fight for reproductive rights and freedoms. We remain confident that Maine lawmakers, who voters elected to protect abortion access in Maine, will continue to make good on their campaign promises to safeguard and expand access to this safe and necessary medical procedure in Maine,” said Nicole Clegg of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. 

In response to the new federal abortion landscape, state lawmakers have indeed introduced legislation to further protect reproductive health rights in Maine via a slate of four bills. The centerpiece of that legislation is a bill introduced by Mills and co-sponsored by Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) and Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) that seeks to ensure that decisions about whether to have an abortion late in a pregnancy due to medical complications are made by qualified medical professionals in conjunction with their patients. 

Mills, Jackson and Talbot Ross are also supporting three other bills. One, sponsored by Rep. Amy Kuhn (D-Falmouth), would strengthen protections for health providers so that they may safely offer care to people traveling to Maine for an abortion. The measure would expand on Mills’ executive order issued in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June decision by prohibiting state agencies from cooperating with another state’s investigation into a person, organization, or health care provider for delivering abortion care in Maine.

Another bill in the package, by Rep. Laura Supica (D-Bangor), would bar municipalities from enacting a local ordinance that conflicts with the 1993 Reproductive Privacy Act. An additional measure, introduced by Rep. Matt Moonen (D-Portland), would expand on a 2019 law that mandated that both private and public insurance cover abortion care. The bill would address private insurance plans that require patients to pay out of pocket for abortion care until they meet their deductible.

Democrats hold a majority in the state legislature, meaning the measures should pass if the party sticks together.

“State lawmakers must join together to not only protect the right to abortion and reproductive care but ensure that those who need this care can actually get it,” Maine Senate President Troy Jackson said Sunday. “In Maine, that is exactly what we plan to do — rest assured that the Maine Senate Democrats will continue fighting to protect your fundamental rights.” 

“Today would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade,” Talbot Ross added. “There’s a candle in my window and so many others as a reminder that we stand united as beacons of light in dark times. We will continue to protect and ensure equal access to reproductive care for all.”

Along with that package, other Democrats — such as Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc) and Rep. Sophie Warren (D-Scarborough) — have put forward bill titles aimed at codifying the right to abortion in the Maine Constitution, which several other states have done. That could prove difficult, however, given that constitutional amendments in Maine need a two-thirds majority to pass. Democrats don’t hold such a majority, and Republicans have shown themselves hostile to abortion rights in past legislative sessions. 

That appears to be continuing this session, as GOP lawmakers have introduced a series of anti-abortion bill titles. 

For example, Rep. Reagan Paul (R-Winterport) has put forward a bill to prohibit the prescription of abortion pills via telehealth appointments. In addition, Rep. Kathy Javner (R-Chester) has introduced legislation to conform MaineCare with the federal Hyde Amendment, which blocks Medicaid funding for abortion services with very narrow exceptions, resulting in lower-income women often struggling to get the health care they need. Furthermore, Rep. Abigail Griffin (R-Levant) has proposed a bill to require an ultrasound and counseling before an abortion, which would put up additional roadblocks for those seeking to exercise their reproductive health rights.

Those anti-abortion bills will almost certainly not pass the Democratic-led legislature. However, they will likely serve as messaging bills for an anti-abortion movement that has been emboldened since the Supreme Court struck down Roe.