Former Congressman Bruce Poliquin listens to National House Republican Whip Steve Scalise speak at a press conference at the Bangor Waterfront on Tuesday June 28, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin slammed late-term abortion as “horrible” on Tuesday but declined to say whether he would back federal legislation on the issue if elected this year, saying the question of abortion belongs with the states.

Across town in Bangor, Rep. Jared Golden reaffirmed his support for congressional action to enshrine abortion rights across the U.S. ahead of a competitive rematch in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District this fall.

Their comments indicate abortion could be a wedge issue in the highly watched race after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and abolished the federal right to an abortion in a decision released last Friday.

Although state laws are having the most immediate effect on abortion access and the procedure remains legal in Maine, Congress could also pass laws on the issue. Whether lawmakers pursue expanding or limiting abortion access will likely depend on which party controls each chamber, with Maine’s 2nd District, where Golden narrowly defeated Poliquin in 2018, among the seats that could determine party control next year.

Maine is among the states with the highest public support for abortion rights, with 64 percent of Mainers in a 2014 Pew Research survey saying the procedure should be legal in most or all cases, although data by congressional district is not available. Despite last week’s Supreme Court decision, abortion remains legal here under a 1993 state law.

Poliquin addressed the issue while speaking at the Bangor Waterfront on Tuesday alongside House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was visiting Maine for a fundraiser with the former two-term congressman. In their opening remarks, the pair focused on high costs and the issue of immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, seeking to link Golden to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and broader Democratic struggles.

In response to a question about the court’s abortion decision, Poliquin said he was “pro-life” but noted the high court’s decision allows states to set their own abortion laws. He pointed out that abortion remains legal in Maine and said he trusted Mainers to make that decision, saying the state level was where the issue belongs.

But the former two-term congressman also showed openness for some federal action on the issue, saying “late-term abortion” was “horrible” and criticizing Golden for not backing measures to curtail it.

Asked whether he would support a federal 15-week abortion ban favored by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, Poliquin directed the question to Scalise.

The minority whip said a bill clarifying that a baby born alive after an abortion attempt must be given appropriate medical care would be the top priority for Republicans, and they would see about support for other legislation on abortion if they take back the House in November.

“Let’s see what the makeup is and see how far we can go to protect life,” Scalise said.

Poliquin advisor Brent Littlefield said the former congressman could support the concept of the born-alive bill, calling it “common sense” but he would have to see the final language and how it could affect state law. Democrats have generally characterized the born-alive bill as unnecessary, citing that the vast majority of abortions occur well before fetal viability and infanticide is already illegal.

Golden, who characterized the Supreme Court’s decision as a “grave mistake” on Friday, told reporters at Husson University in Bangor on Tuesday that Congress should be working to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade.

The Democratic congressman took questions while holding his 1-year-old daughter, Rosemary, after touring university facilities Tuesday morning. Golden submitted a congressionally directed spending request for the coming fiscal year to support upgrading laboratories there.

He also hit Poliquin as having an “unclear” stance on abortion rights, noting that the former Republican congressman indicated on a 2014 questionnaire for the National Pro-Life Alliance that he would support a constitutional amendment banning abortion in most cases despite his recent comments that the issue should be left up to the states.

“Without Roe there as a legal protection across the country, I think this is something that people really are going to be looking for answers about,” Golden said.