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George Hill is the president and CEO of Maine Family Planning.
In January, we marked the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but we don’t know if it will make it to 50. In December, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and with a freshly cemented 6-3 conservative supermajority on the court, the writing on the wall spells the potential demise of nationwide legal protection for abortion.
This month we celebrate the 29th anniversary of An Act to Protect Reproductive Privacy in Maine, aka the Reproductive Privacy Act. Maine was the fifth state in the country to enact legislative protection for abortion after the 1992 Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, shifted the legal framework of abortion rights in our country, opening the door for states to impose additional restrictions on abortion access. Mainers rallied together and said that we would protect the right to abortion in our state.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has a page on its website where it says, “Facts are Important: Abortion is Healthcare.” This is such a simple truth and yet we remain mired in political debates that hurt patients and families. In a cruel paradox, the 14 states with the most restrictive abortion laws also have the worst maternal and child health outcomes across a wide range of measures, including mistimed and unwanted pregnancy, delayed entry into prenatal care, low infant birthweight, infant mortality, child poverty, and adverse childhood experiences. Mississippi, the state at the heart of the Dobbs case, ranked last in the
Commonwealth Fund’s 2020 composite score for health system performance on measures such as overall preventable mortality and children without appropriate preventive care.
When the Reproductive Privacy Act was signed into law here in Maine in April of 1993, it was signed by a Republican governor, John “Jock” McKernan Jr. It had bipartisan sponsorship from Republican Sen. Pam Cahill and Democratic Rep. Susan Farnsworth, and dozens of co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. Today it feels like evidence-based reproductive health and rights has become a partisan issue, and being anti-abortion has become a prerequisite of membership to the Republican Party. It shouldn’t be this way.
An estimated 1 in 4 women will have one or more abortions during their reproductive years, and people who have abortions represent all of us. As we like to say in this work, “Everyone loves someone who has had an abortion.” But thanks in part to our online lives that serve us more and more of our own opinions, our ability to talk to each other and find common ground is shrinking. We are more likely to put each other into boxes and categories. But like so many aspects of our lives, abortion experiences defy categorization.
If we are to walk bravely towards the growing, thriving Maine that we all want to see, we will have to resist the urge to reduce each other to categories and to draw lines that cannot be crossed. We will need to be curious about each other, and show each other the compassion and empathy that we all deserve.
This year is a midterm and gubernatorial election year, and on this anniversary of the Reproductive Privacy Act in Maine, I urge all of us to remember that behind every hot-button issue are real people and communities. Let’s listen to each other and work together to enact sensible policies that lead to the most beneficial and equitable outcomes possible. Let’s keep moving forward, not backward. And let’s hope we’ll be celebrating the Reproductive Privacy Act’s 30th anniversary next year, together.