AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine officials are watching abortion laws in other states with an eye toward further protections to insulate the state from more conservative ones looking to limit abortion after last week’s Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
There is a lot of uncertainty about the legal landscape for abortion rights across the U.S. following that decision. Abortion remains legal in Democratic-controlled Maine, and providers anticipate an increase in women traveling here for the procedure as it becomes harder to get elsewhere.
But opponents of abortion rights have floated broad laws aimed at undermining access to abortion even in liberal states where it has broad public support. Gov. Janet Mills, who has expanded access to abortion during her time as governor, said on Monday that she was reviewing her options to ensure women from other states seeking abortions in Maine would be protected. Nearby states have gone further to shield abortion providers or patients.
There could be conflict between states like Maine that have shielded abortion rights and those restricting the procedure, said Jackie Sartoris, the Democratic nominee for district attorney in Cumberland County running unopposed in November. She pledged early in her campaign that her office would not use resources to prosecute someone for seeking an abortion.
“We absolutely know that this is going to be an issue,” Sartoris said. “The anti-abortion prosecutors are already taking about how they are going to reach into states where abortion remains legal.”
The state is keeping tabs on abortion laws in other states that could affect Mainers, Attorney General Aaron Frey said. The Democrat said further protections could be needed to ensure access to abortion here, but it would depend on the laws enacted in anti-abortion states.
“We are going to be watching and may have to react,” Frey said.
A bill in Kentucky earlier this year aimed to give the state’s attorney general the power to extradite providers in other states who prescribed abortion pills to Kentucky residents in violation of the state’s law, among other provisions, according to WUKY. But the law is not in effect as it was struck down by a federal judge in April.
The National Right to Life Committee, an influential anti-abortion group, released sweeping model legislation last week that recommended charging individuals who “aid and abet” an abortion, including medical providers as well as websites that help connect people with them or funds that help pay for an abortion — with conspiracy, similar to how law enforcement targets organized crime. But no state has passed such legislation at this time, however.
Other New England states have taken actions in anticipation of interstate conflict. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, signed an executive order shortly after the high court’s decision was released on Friday that prohibits state agencies from assisting with another state’s investigation into reproductive health services that are legal in Massachusetts and says that the state will not cooperate with abortion-related extradition requests.
Lawmakers in Connecticut passed a bill earlier this year seeking to prevent medical providers or abortion patients from being sued or facing criminal charges in other states over the procedure. It was signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, last month.
Mills, who is also a Democrat, has pushed to expand access to abortion rights during her time in office, signing laws in 2019 to allow mid-level medical professionals to perform the procedure and use state funding to cover abortions for Medicaid recipients.
The governor said in a statement on Monday she was “deeply concerned for the safety of women from other states who may need to seek abortion in Maine” and was “reviewing all options” including a potential executive order to ensure they at their health care providers would be protected here.
Other district attorneys anticipated little conflict. Matt Foster, the Republican district attorney in Hancock and Washington counties, said he did not see how Maine prosecutors would end up with jurisdiction over conduct occurring in another state.
The only scenario he could envision where a Maine prosecutor would get involved in a case originating from another state would be if a person accused of violating another state’s law was found in Maine, and a prosecutor here would need to file a complaint to complete the extradition process.
The potential for additional protections for women seeking abortions in Maine has also drawn attention at the local level, including in Brunswick, a liberal college town. But it is not immediately clear what would fall under the jurisdiction of cities and towns, said Dan Ankeles, the vice town council chair running for the Maine House as a Democrat this fall.
“This is going to be a long-term exploration of how every unit of government in these pro-choice states can do all they can to undermine what the anti-choice states are doing at every level,” Ankeles said. “So we’re going to learn as we go.”