In November 2018, Gov. Janet Mills makes an appearance in the gallery of a Portland courtroom where the fate of Medicaid expansion was being debated. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Donna McNeil is a Rockland resident who is the founding executive director of the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation.

Before 1973, when Roe v. Wade protected Americans’ right to an abortion, America was a scary place for young women. Necessary and often life-saving reproductive health care was unreliable, extremely difficult to access and frequently dangerous.

I should know. In 1965, at the age of 17, I rode blindfolded for more than an hour from a restaurant parking lot to a rural farmhouse in order to procure an illegal abortion without which my young life would have been completely derailed. And while my experience was certainly harrowing, I still was on the luckier side because my family supported me. Without the ability to find and pay for professional, although illegal, care, I would have borne a child with a man I barely knew and would not have married, postponing or altogether ending my education and, with it, my desire to build a life of service.

Three years ago, right before Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, I told my full story in the Portland Press Herald to paint a picture of the world we would go back to if Roe v. Wade was overturned. Now, with Republican lawmakers across the country on a crusade to restrict reproductive rights and the Supreme Court appearing open to overturning Roe, it looks like the nightmares of my past could very soon be our country’s future.

While the battle to protect abortion rights in the courts may have been lost the moment that Kavanaugh took the bench, there still is one last line of defense that can prevent at least some of the country from returning to the dangerous realities of the pre-Roe era: Governors. I’m thankful that here in Maine, Janet Mills has already made abundantly clear that she will defend access to reproductive health care.

Mills has earned a national reputation as a champion for access to reproductive health care. Her efforts with the Legislature – including requiring Medicaid to cover the procedure, allowing more mid-level health care practitioners to perform it, and expanding health care access to 85,000 Mainers — have made accessing abortion in Maine much easier than in many other states.

But that could all change with one election. Less than a year out from the 2022 midterms, Maine’s GOP is already making clear that they want to take Maine backward.

The first step would be reelecting Paul LePage, an opponent of abortion rights. LePage, a frequenter of anti-abortion rallies, has long been on the record about his desire to return to a pre-Roe era, saying “let’s do it” to the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning the landmark decision. During his eight years as governor, LePage made it harder for Maine people to access reproductive care. He cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state family planning agency, spent years obstructing health care expansion, and kept vacant a number of life-saving public health positions. If he is elected for a third term with the state Republican Party hostile to abortion rights and Roe’s protections potentially in the rearview mirror, LePage could go even further.

It’s becoming a cliche to insist just how important the next election is. But Republicans like LePage are relentless in their efforts to strip us of our rights and drag us backward to an era where 17-year-old girls must ride alone and blindfolded with strange men just to access basic reproductive care. We can’t afford to leave any votes on the table.

In Maine, we are blessed to have a champion for reproductive rights like Janet Mills in charge. This fall, we must do all we can to keep her in office and our reproductive rights intact.