Followers of a committee hearing on several bills to expand abortion access in Maine watch it on a TV set up to accommodate overflowing crowds in the State House on Monday. Credit: Billy Kobin / BDN

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Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.

A great thing happened this week.

The abortion debate can, understandably, become very emotional. Those supporting access to abortion often ground their position in the idea of an individual’s autonomy.  

Many on the pro-life side believe the question is one of, quite literally, life or death for an unborn child.  

Both are powerful positions. And when passion, emotion and power all come together, things can get volatile.

They didn’t this week in Augusta. That is a great thing.

When the Supreme Court held that the regulation of abortion is an issue for each state, the debate left Washington and shifted to state houses across the country. On the campaign trail, Gov. Janet Mills argued that Maine’s existing laws were good, workable, and she wouldn’t pursue changes.

When she won reelection together with legislative Democrats, it appeared to be a win for Maine’s status quo on the question.

That changed.

On Monday, legislators heard from a woman whose story helped motivate the current effort to loosen restrictions on abortions in Maine. In short, she wanted to have her child. But late in her pregnancy it became clear that, due to abnormalities, it would not happen.

The tale is poignant. Watching someone share their trauma publicly, first-hand, someone who was pregnant for more than 30 weeks to only end in tragedy, is heartbreaking. Untold numbers of Mainers have unsuccessfully tried to conceive, while others have dealt with miscarriages. These challenges are intensely personal.

Yet, after those in favor of the bill spoke, legislators were in for one of the longest-ever hearings in the history of the Maine Legislature. Mainer after Mainer, a couple minutes at a time, came and told their stories. They spoke of faith, of belief and of hope for the future.  

But, most importantly, everyone on both sides expressed themselves with words.  

There have been reports of violence against both sides in the debate. Zealots have tried to attack clinics or providers. Bigots have desecrated and vandalized churches.  

None of that happened in Augusta in this debate. That is a great thing.

We have seen violence arise in political debates. The events of Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol are one example. Madmen who threatened to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh or actually shot GOP Rep. Steve Scalise are others.  

None of that happened in Augusta this week. That is a great thing.

I fully recognize that it should be the faintest of all praise to commend people for not resorting to political violence. But here we are.

Notwithstanding the marathon hearing, it seems clear that the Democrats’ major abortion bills will pass under Democratic majorities in Augusta. Whether that aligns with public opinion is yet to be seen. Most poll questions on abortion come down to specific wording; both access to and restrictions on abortion are popular.  

Once these changes become law, the response from those on the pro-life side needs to be at the ballot box. That same energy and passion that enabled Mainers to stay up all night long so that their voices could be heard should be harnessed.

More than 20 seats in the Maine House were decided by fewer than 500 votes in the last election. Five state Senate seats were decided by fewer than 1,000 votes. A couple thousand votes could mean all the difference in legislative outcomes.

Using our political system as it is intended — making voices heard in the State House, making them count at the ballot box — is a great thing. We do not resort to violence when debates go against us.  

The beauty of our system means another election is never far away. Violence is not the answer; voting is. And that is a great thing.

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.