Gov. Janet Mills speaks to a crowd at an abortion-rights rally in Portland's Monument Square on Nov. 1, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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.

Gov. Janet Mills may be in for the biggest cultural fight of her tenure over a series of abortion-rights expansions that she laid out at a Tuesday news conference, led by one that would allow doctors to perform abortions after fetal viability if they deem them necessary.

That viability cutoff, common in abortion-rights states like Maine, has not been changed since a landmark 1993 law that codified Roe v. Wade here. After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision last year, red states have moved to ban or limit abortions while blue states have looked to preserve or expand access, leading to the flashpoint over the issue here.

Abortions later in pregnancies are relatively rare. Maine’s cutoff for most abortions now sits around 24 weeks, but there were no abortions in week 20 or later here in 2021. Mills highlighted the story of a Maine woman who discovered at week 32 that her fetus had a condition that would lead it to die shortly after being born and had to travel to Colorado for a legal abortion.

While doctors said the changes would help women in outlying cases, anti-abortion groups reacted strongly. The state’s Catholic bishop called Mills and Democrats “radical and extreme” on the issue. The evangelical Christian Civic League issued a Thursday alert to supporters saying the changes “must be stopped.”

“We have our role to play. So do you,” the group said. “In the coming weeks, we will be able to give you more information on what you can do to help.”

One option is a people’s veto effort if the changes pass, something conservative radio host Ray Richardson vowed to work on during his Friday show. Anti-abortion advocates tried to overturn Mills-backed laws in 2019 that allowed Medicaid funding for abortions and expanded the list of medical professionals allowed to perform them, but it failed to get on the ballot behind low signature totals in southern Maine.

History tells us their success in even getting to the ballot is not promised, much less winning in a state where abortion rights poll well. Discussion of such an effort may also be ahead of itself because the measures are not all printed yet in Augusta. Lawmakers could choose to change them before final votes.

But it seems clear that Augusta is already primed for an emotional fight over abortion, potentially unlike any we have seen here in 30 years. It will be a fascinating addition to the 2023 legislative session and the wider political debate in Maine.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...