Cara Sacks, co-chair of Mainers for Health and Parental Rights, speaks at a news conference before her group delivered petitions to the Maine secretary of state's office on Wednesday in Augusta. The group says they gathered more than 92,000 signatures in support of the people's veto of government-mandated vaccine bill. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Opponents of a new Maine law that would scrap religious and personal exemptions for vaccines said they had enough signatures to make the March 2020 ballot, while those who looked to repeal abortion and so-called death with dignity laws fell short.

Members of Mainers for Health and Parental Rights, the group opposing the vaccine law passed this year by the Democratic-led Legislature, were in Augusta on Wednesday to turn in 78,000 valid signatures — more than the 63,000 signatures required to suspend the law and put the people’s veto challenge on the ballot — to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office.

Those signatures must be verified by Dunlap’s office, but it was likely that opponents would prevail in what at first looked to be an uphill attempt to make the March presidential primary ballot. They had less than 90 days to collect signatures and did it mostly with volunteer crews.

Cara Sacks, a co-chair of the group opposing the law, said at a Wednesday news conference that more than 800 people collected signatures. She said her group was not against vaccines, but it believes in “informed consent and the right to choose what is injected into our bodies.”

“A people’s veto is the chance for citizens to challenge our government when they pass a law that we believe is not in the best interest of our state and not a true representation of the people’s will,” Sacks said.

The vaccine law, backed by the administration of Gov. Janet Mills and passed largely along party lines with support from her fellow Democrats, was a response to rising opt-out rates in Maine, which had a higher rate than all but six states during the 2017-18 school year.

The campaign against the people’s veto effort will be led by Maine Families for Vaccines, which helped pass the law. Berkeley Almand-Hunter of Hallowell, a member of the group, said she expected most Mainers would back the law and called proponents of the law “very motivated.”

It was among a raft of bills that faced people’s veto efforts after the end of the legislative session in June. The evangelical Christian Civic League of Maine led the challenges to laws that will allow abortions to be funded with state money in Medicaid and allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients.

Carroll Conley, the league’s executive director, issued a Wednesday statement saying his group fell short of the required signatures. In an interview, he said his group had disappointing totals in southern Maine and said it will continue to mull referendum challenges to both laws, which take effect on Thursday.

“Our goal all along, whether people agree with us or not, is to save lives,” Conley said.

In a statement, Nicole Clegg, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the failure of the abortion law challenge will ensure Mainers can “make medical decisions that are the best for them and insurance companies and politicians cannot deny care.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...