A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
The June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn federal abortion rights seems to have given Democratic voters nationally a shot of urgency ahead of the 2022 election.
Maine looks to be the same so far, with Gov. Janet Mills polling further ahead of former Gov. Paul LePage than she was in the spring. That decision has led to a robust conversation in Maine about where abortion laws would go if LePage and Republicans retook Augusta.
Mills and Democrats have campaigned hard on the issue, noting LePage’s anti-abortion stance. For his part, the former governor has said he has “no reason” to challenge the state’s expansive abortion laws, but he also has not ruled out signing restrictions into law if they are brought to him.
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Many Republicans have recoiled at questions on the issue. Three dozen of the party’s House members and candidates refused to answer a Bangor Daily News candidate survey in part because of a question on abortion. We are releasing the answers today as part of our 2022 voter guide.
But in the past few weeks, Republicans have shot back with questions of their own. Last week, Maine GOP Chair Demi Kouzounas sent a missive to reporters imploring them to ask Mills whether she would remove Maine’s current limits on abortion. The state codified Roe v. Wade in 1993, meaning that most abortions must occur before viability, normally around 24 weeks.
As she was leaving an environmental event on Thursday in Lewiston, Mills said the state had not yet finished a promised review of whether the Maine Constitution already shields abortion rights. She may float a constitutional amendment if the state determines the answer is no, but it would likely be blocked by Republicans.
Mills made other moves to expand abortion access in her tenure, including by covering the procedure under MaineCare, something that was opposed by Republicans. But she provided a clear answer on whether she wants to go further on Maine’s abortion-access laws.
“Our statute codifies Roe v. Wade, and I don’t intend to offer any changes to it,” she said.
This is a stance that was more common than you may think in the BDN’s candidate survey. While we are missing lots of Republicans, only two candidates for either chamber said Maine law should be changed to make it harder to get an abortion. Another 56 — virtually all of them Democrats — said it should be easier, while 65 said there should be no change. The latter means different things to Democrats and Republicans.
Many members of the majority party want a constitutional amendment to solidify Maine’s current laws. Some Republicans noted they oppose MaineCare funding, indicating that could be one of the first abortion laws on the chopping block if they gain control.
The conversation could change sharply depending on who is in control after Election Day, but this is where we are right now.