After a 2022 campaign animated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end federal abortion rights, Maine Republicans are making new arguments in their uphill quest for restrictions.
Instead of arguing against abortion on moral grounds, the early conversation among conservative lawmakers in Augusta has been about making abortions safer. Rep. Tracy Quint, R-Hodgdon, insisted that her proposal to require insurers to pay for a second opinion if a doctor recommends an abortion for health reasons was not an “abortion issue.”
The World Health Organization describes abortion as a “common health intervention” that is safe in a medical setting, and abortion-rights advocates call the safety argument a smokescreen for restrictions that remain unlikely to pass in the Democratic-led State House.
But the early arguments from Republicans could be a preview of how they tackle the subject of abortion rights in the future. Legislative candidates spent much of the campaign season highlighting other issues or saying they wanted no changes to abortion laws while Democrats pushed the idea that the GOP would back restrictions if they gained power.
Up to 10 Republican abortion bills were filed ahead of the 2023 legislative session, according to a list of titles. Some would amount to clear restrictions, including ones to prohibit abortions without parental consent, to require ultrasounds and counseling before abortions and bar the prescriptions of abortion pills through telehealth.
Others fall into another category. Assistant House Minority Leader Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, said her bill would allow women in the process of getting abortions to opt out and get their money back if they change their mind. It would also inform them when they enter that they can not be compelled to get an abortion by their landlord, employer or university.
Arata said her background as a mother and scientist made her pro-life. But she argued none of the bills on the table would restrict abortion and doubted that her caucus would be thinking about the high-charged nature of the abortion issue when they vote.
“These are very common-sense bills that protect women,” Arata said.
Planned Parenthood of Maine spokesperson Nicole Clegg said there is no evidence for any medical problems with abortion in Maine, saying that the efforts to legislate it represented the anti-abortion side “stigmatizing, shaming and scaring” those who want to get them.
“The outcome of the election made it really clear where Mainers stand,” Clegg said. “It is to the detriment of the Republican Party to continue to push an extreme anti-abortion agenda.”
The telehealth ban from Rep. Reagan Paul, R-Winterport, would prohibit a practice that was made easier by the administration of President Joe Biden in 2021 but was barred or restricted in 19 states even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. Clegg said it would hinder access in a rural state.
Nodding to political reality, Mike McClellan, the policy director of the evangelical and anti-abortion Christian Civic League of Maine, said abortion will not be made illegal here. So Republicans are trying to make it safer, he said.
He said the Republican bills filed this year were possible to pass, though they still have uphill fights. Only six Democrats voted with the Republicans in their unsuccessful 2021 effort to overturn Gov. Janet Mills’ past move to allow Medicaid funding for abortions. Just two of those Democrats, Reps. Joe Perry of Bangor and Bruce White of Waterville, remain.
While McClellan acknowledged the hard fight ahead for his side, he said those in support of abortion-rights supporters have succeeded here with strong messages. Showing there is an opposing view is something his side needed to prioritize by emphasizing facts, he said.
“We elected our legislative leaders to deal with this stuff,” McClellan said. “So they shouldn’t have to jump back.”