Former Gov. Paul LePage, the Republican nominee for governor, speaks to the press in Westbrook on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Republican Paul LePage said Monday that he won’t target Maine’s legal protections for women seeking an abortion. But Democrats said the former governor shouldn’t be believed.

LePage was asked about an executive order signed by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills — his opponent in the fall — prohibiting state agencies from cooperating with investigations into women who travel to Maine to obtain an abortion. Mills signed the executive order weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe. v. Wade ruling, thereby allowing states to enact severe restrictions on access to abortion. Politicians and prosecutors in some states have threatened to pursue women who travel to other states to seek an abortion or the health professionals that assist them.

LePage responded that the executive order wasn’t needed and was of limited use because it only applies to state agencies or employees. But the Republican, who is anti-abortion, added that he won’t seek to undo a 1993 state law that guarantees women’s access to abortion.

“It is legal,” LePage said. “Nobody is saying they are going to reverse it. I am certainly not involved in reversing it or even attempt to do anything against abortion. It is the law of the state.”

Those were some of the most forceful comments LePage has made to date on the abortion issue, who has previously said he didn’t “have time for abortion” because he was focused on issues like inflation, the economy and education. He and other Republicans were largely quiet or dismissive of the Roe ruling last month, suggesting that GOP politicians and campaigns are sensitive to the political perils of the abortion issue in a state where they are outnumbered by both Democrats and independents.

Democrats, meanwhile, plan to continue highlighting abortion headed into the fall elections. And they highlighted what they suggested were LePage’s conflicting statements.

“Paul LePage calling Gov. Mills’ Executive Order ‘not worth the paper it’s written on’ is an insult to Maine health care providers and women who may be the target of other states’ extreme efforts to prosecute women in need of health care,” Maine Democratic Party spokesperson Jacob Stern said in a statement. “LePage’s comments make clear that he’s going to repeal the EO and put health care providers and women in danger. Paul LePage has said, ‘We should not have abortion’ and, at the beginning of this month, he refused to rule out signing new abortion restrictions into law. These comments, along with what he said today, make it abundantly clear that if LePage and Republicans win, women’s rights and reproductive health care are in jeopardy.”

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.