Two men are back-to-back in front of a white background.
Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Ethan: As a pro-choice Republican, where do you stand on the news that the Supreme Court is likely to strike down Roe v. Wade?

Phil: I understand the thinking behind the draft ruling. The right to abortion until viability was always on shaky ground as a constitutional protection. The controversy now unfolding illustrates why I believe a woman’s very personal decision should be codified in law by Congress. The fact that Congress may finally act, is the one silver lining.

Ethan: The constitutional protection is only “shaky” because our court was packed by a president who lost the popular vote (Donald Trump) and a U.S. Senate that refused to do its constitutional duty to consider a sitting president’s (Barack Obama) nominee. But if it is a law you want, call your friend Susan Collins. She claims she was duped, but on Wednesday she voted against beginning debate on a bill that would codify Roe in U.S. law.

Phil: She has proposed her own bill with Lisa Murkowski that also codifies Roe. 

Ethan: Her bill or the Democratic bill (which are basically the same) won’t go anywhere unless she (and other senators) finally agree to suspend the filibuster. If she wants to save face after the speeches she gave assuring us that Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh would not overturn Roe, that is her best chance.

Phil: Do you see any silver linings?

Ethan: The only one I see is that both Gov. Janet Mills and Democrats in the Legislature got a big boost as Mainers, who are pro-choice by almost 2-1, understand that the battle for abortion rights is about to shift to Augusta. 

Phil: Obviously, I don’t see that your lining as made of silver, although I agree that this brings to the fore an issue that hasn’t registered in state races since 1999 when pro-life activists tried to ban late-term abortion.

Ethan: Yup, an initiative that went down in flames, again reminding the anti-choice extremists that Maine is solidly in favor of a woman’s right to abortion. That is why I think this bodes well for Democrats.

Phil: Mainers are solidly pro-choice and have been for a long time. That’s why I don’t see this actually playing out as deeply as you think. Even Paul LePage, a pro-life Republican, stayed away from pushing that agenda during his eight years in the Blaine House. Based on his statements last week, I don’t get a sense that he will now embrace the extreme of banning abortion in Maine.

Ethan: He didn’t push that agenda, because he knew it would fail and the U.S. Constitution didn’t allow him to. But he attended pro-life rallies on a regular basis and the Republican Party platform is decidedly anti-choice.

Phil: LePage has made clear that his biggest policy issue is with public funding of abortion, which is wholly consistent with his conservative fiscal management and with pro-life Democrats. 

Ethan: What about the Legislature? Democrats will make this a rallying cry in the fall, as they should. Especially for moderate women voters who have grown up with this right and don’t want to lose it for themselves or their daughters.

Phil: I am sure they will, but Maine voters know this has never been as partisan an issue here as it has been nationally. We have plenty of pro-choice Republicans who have never really had to discuss the issue. Now they will and that will be good for democracy.

Ethan: How do you feel about the push to amend the Maine constitution to protect this right?

Phil: I would vote for it if sent to ballot because then that shaky constitutional protection I mentioned earlier would no longer be shaky.