PORTLAND, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills may push an amendment to the Maine Constitution to enshrine abortion rights if she wins reelection in November, she said Wednesday.
The Democratic governor’s comments added specifics to her roadmap during a high-profile November matchup with former Gov. Paul LePage, an anti-abortion Republican. She and her party have put her abortion-rights stances and Maine’s liberal set of laws at the center of the race after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal abortion rights in June.
At a rally on Wednesday, Mills told reporters she “didn’t have a legislative plan” to enshrine a recent executive order on abortion rights into Maine law, but said her office was looking into whether the Maine Constitution already provides a right to abortion.
The governor told reporters it was a “little preliminary” to say whether the document protects abortion or if a new constitutional amendment would be necessary to do so.
“All of those things are on the table,” Mills said during an event organized by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England’s political committee in Portland’s Lincoln Park.
Mills’ support would not clinch a constitutional amendment, which would be unlikely to pass in the current Democratic-led Legislature because two-thirds of both chambers must agree to such a change and Republicans have the votes to block that supermajority.
Because of that equal-rights amendment backed by the governor failed earlier this year due to Republican opposition and their concerns that courts could use it to enshrine abortion rights. Putting them explicitly in the state Constitution would protect them from being overturned.
The governor’s office will be working with the office of Attorney General Aaron Frey in the coming months to decide whether the Maine Constitution protects a right to an abortion, Mills spokesperson Lindsay Crete said later in the day.
If they decide that it does not protect that right, or that constitutional language is necessary to clarify that it does, Mills will propose a state constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights in the next legislative session, Crete said.
Article I does not explicitly contain the word “abortion,” but it does have a passage nearly identical to the 14th Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court used that to establish a constitutional right to abortion in 1973. Although the conservative-led court has overturned that precedent, Maine courts have not.
The remarks closed an event in which the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund Political Action Committee formally endorsed Mills’ reelection campaign for governor.
Mills signed an executive order earlier this month preventing state agencies from collaborating with other states seeking to prosecute people leaving their state for abortion care in Maine. The order also called on state officials to minimize barriers to abortion.
People from states where abortion is now illegal have already traveled to Maine for abortions. Mills also responded to remarks this week from LePage, who said her executive order was unnecessary. Independent Sam Hunkler is also on the ballot.
“There are threats all over the country, threats to prosecute or sue for civil damages,” Mills said. “If there’s any ambiguity about that, he can call me.”
LePage has tried to downplay the issue in favor of economic ones so far, telling Maine Public on Monday that he was not seeking to erode a 1993 law shielding abortion rights and he was “not involved in reversing it or even attempt to do anything against abortion.” But some conservatives have said they would target expansions of abortion rights under Mills.
She said that LePage’s statement that he wouldn’t target abortion rights reminded her of previous statements from Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who said during his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate in 2018 that Roe v. Wade was an “important precedent,” but then voted with four other justices last month to overturn the precedent.