Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, speaks against an abortion-rights bill in the House chamber at the Maine State House on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. (Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN)

AUGUSTA, Maine — Abortion opponents said they will not seek a people’s veto on Gov. Janet Mills’ measure allowing doctors to perform abortions past Maine’s current viability cutoff.

Speak Up For Life, a group led by Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, told supporters in a Wednesday email that anti-abortion allies had decided the cost of gathering signatures and running the campaign was too high and that a smaller amount could be deployed to elect anti-abortion candidates in the 2024 election.

“As we move forward, our foremost priority remains unwavering: the pursuit of effective, lasting change that upholds the sanctity of life,” Libby wrote.

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Mills, a Democrat, signed the bill she proposed earlier this year into law in July in a move that will put Maine among seven other states that allow abortions after viability. It was one of the most controversial proposals of 2023, with hundreds of opponents filling the State House and testifying against it during a May public hearing that lasted more than 19 hours.

Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature, but the bill almost failed to pass the House of Representatives in June and could have been defeated if not for several Republicans being absent for the final enactment vote.

The people’s veto process allows opponents of laws passed by the Legislature to gather signatures to delay items and put them on the ballot. Abortion opponents would have had 80 days to gather more than 67,000 signatures if they had filed for the ballot by a Wednesday deadline. The vote would not have been until the presidential primaries in March 2024.

The effort to repeal the abortion bill would have encountered well-organized, well-funded opposition from abortion-rights groups such as Planned Parenthood.

Polling suggests the people’s veto effort could have had a chance, though it was no sure thing. A February poll by the University of New Hampshire found 52 percent of Mainers supported the governor’s bill, though post-viability abortions are unpopular here and nationally. Only 20 percent of Mainers supported them in a 2022 survey by the COVID States Project, but a majority supported allowing abortions in the case of fetal abnormalities or birth defects.

Post-viability abortions are relatively rare, with the vast majority of abortions in Maine and nationally in the first trimester. No abortions occurred in Maine after 20 weeks in 2021, per state data.

Though she said during her 2022 campaign she wanted no changes to abortion laws, Mills introduced this year’s bill after highlighting the case of a Yarmouth woman who discovered at 32 weeks her fetus had a condition that would cause it to die shortly after birth and had to travel to Colorado for the procedure.

Billy Kobin is a politics reporter who joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023. He grew up in Wisconsin and previously worked at The Indianapolis Star and The Courier Journal (Louisville, Ky.) after graduating...