Mainers on both sides of an abortionMainers on both sides of an abortion-rights bill line the hallway leading to the House of Representatives chamber at the State House in Augusta on June 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

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.

Opponents of the abortion-rights bill signed into law last month by Gov. Janet Mills have until Wednesday to decide whether to mount a people’s veto campaign that would delay the measure and put it on the ballot next year.

The bill, which will allow doctors to perform abortions they deem necessary after the current viability cutoff around 24 weeks, was the most contentious one that faced lawmakers in 2023. Mills unveiled the idea in January, just a few months after she said in her campaign that she did not want to further open up the state’s permissive abortion access laws.

The context: House Democrats only just locked down the votes to pass the measure in June. The Bangor Daily News published text messages to and from key members of the majority party on Monday that showed candid reactions, including that they believed they were losing a vote that had seemed all but certain during an hours-long pause in proceedings that day.

This cause rallied Maine’s anti-abortion movement, which filled the State House for a 19-hour hearing on the bill in May and kept people there for days as lawmakers mulled when to take the bill up in the summer. Those opponents are now considering a people’s veto of the law, and they need to file an application by the end of the day Wednesday if they are serious about it.

It would be just the beginning. They would then have just 80 days to gather nearly 68,000 signatures from registered Maine voters, and they would have to wage a campaign against abortion-rights groups over the measure stretching into the thick of the presidential election cycle in 2024.

What they’re saying: This idea is already the source of tension on Maine’s right, and they are looking a little bit gun-shy as the deadline closes in. One activist told Spectrum News Maine last week that communicating with voters ahead of next year’s legislative elections is the way her side can best fight back against the bill.

The deep pockets of abortion-rights groups including Planned Parenthood could serve as a deterrent, Mike McClellan, policy director for the Christian Civic League of Maine, said. On the other hand, he said the movement now has members who have learned the legislative process and want to do as much as they can to smother the measure.

The history: The group was among the leaders of a 2009 effort that overturned a same-sex marriage bill signed by then-Gov. John Baldacci. Their recent track record is not good, losing a 2020 bid to overturn strict new school vaccine requirements and failing to get challenges to abortion and “death with dignity” laws on the ballot that year.

What’s next: It has been difficult to know who has the upper hand on public opinion here. Opponents dominated the hearing on the bill, but Maine has always polled as a pro-abortion rights state. Mills couched the law as a response to rare cases in which women discover fatal fetal anomalies late in pregnancy. One recent poll showed a majority of Mainers favor exceptions in those situations, but the state follows the rest of the country in strong opposition to post-viability abortions.

Whether there is a campaign fully dedicated to it or not, abortion is going to be a key issue in the 2024 elections in Maine. Last year, Republicans generally tried to avoid questions on the subject after the repeal of federal abortion rights. They may have a different role next year in pushing Democratic candidates on the sensitive issue, putting the discussion in a different tone.

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...