A significant turnout for abortion rights in Kansas this week is making Maine politicians and experts wonder how heavily the topic will permeate statewide races this November.
Nearly 60 percent of voters on Tuesday rejected a constitutional amendment that would have removed the right to have an abortion. Passage would have very likely meant an abortion ban in Kansas, where Republicans hold a large majority in the Legislature despite the state having a Democratic governor.
That result was shocking for a state known for its conservative views — it voted for former Republican President Donald Trump by 15 percentage points in 2020 and hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president in nearly 60 years. But the belief in how much influence abortion rights will have in the November elections falls along party lines.
The referendum results confirm the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning a constitutional right to abortion was nationally unpopular, said Nicole Clegg, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
She expects the abortion issue to play a major role in elections across Maine in 2022, from the gubernatorial contest down to congressional and legislative races. She thinks that will stay true in November, four months after the Dobbs decision.
“This is motivating voters,” Clegg said. “They are very concerned about the future of reproductive rights, and candidates should be paying attention.”
Also astounding about the Kansas vote was the turnout: around half of eligible voters turned out for a primary election that often sees far lower numbers.
But it does not appear to be something that will “sway elections” here in November, argued Michael McClellan, policy director of the anti-abortion Christian Civic League of Maine, noting polling has consistently shown that Americans are more concerned about things like fuel costs and the price of food.
“There’s so many other things going on that really are affecting people on a day-to-day basis,” McClellan said. “The majority of people are more worried about gas prices.”
A New York Times analysis released Thursday found that 75 percent of Mainers would support abortion rights in a ballot initiative similar to the one in Kansas, the sixth-highest rate in the country and higher than neighboring New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Vermont, Massachusetts and the Hawaii were deemed most supportive of abortion rights.
In a state where the level of support for abortion rights is often among the highest in the country, McClellan said his group was prioritizing policies it sees as capable of passing. In the next legislative session, it will push for a ban on using taxpayer funding for abortions, something he notes polls have consistently have shown is generally unpopular nationwide.
Maine is one of more than a dozen states that allows state Medicaid funding to pay for abortions — a policy signed in 2019 by Gov. Janet Mills. The league’s board is anti-abortion but does not have a specific policy on the point at which abortion should be restricted, McClellan said.
Abortion is already playing a role in at least one Maine legislative race: the race for Senate District 8, which covers Orono, Old Town, Lincoln and a number of other Penobscot County communities.
Last month, comments Republican candidate Eric Rojo made to the Christian Civic League in which he said the unborn were “citizens that must be protected by the Constitution” were used by the Democratic Party to highlight opposition to abortion among Republicans legislative candidates.
Rojo said he was anti-abortion, a view that he believes arises from the U.S. Constitution, but does not oppose birth control, saying the various methods were a valuable way to prevent the need for abortions. He said voters hadn’t asked him about abortion on the campaign trail yet, with the economy being a far larger priority.
“Several states will make this an issue in the fall, but I’m not sure that will be the case in Maine,” Rojo said. “Maine has a pro-abortion law: I don’t see any movement yet to go and make any changes.”
Mike Tipping, Rojo’s Democratic opponent, said many Republicans had shown they held extreme views on abortion rights, including Rojo.
“Maine people have always been very protective of their rights,” Tipping said. “I think this definitely energizes a lot of more moderate voters to get out and vote.”