Data suggest that abortion bans in conservative states have pushed up numbers in states like Maine where access remains protected.
In June 27, 2023, file photo, protesters on both sides of the abortion debate line a hallway as legislators exit the House Chamber for a break at the Maine State House. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / 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.

The last year has brought a seismic shift in abortion access, with roughly half of states enacting bans or being likely to do so after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

After a campaign marked by that issue, Democratic-led states have made their laws more permissive. That includes Maine, where Gov. Janet Mills and Democrats took on Republicans and religious conservatives in a bitter fight over a new law that will allow doctors to perform post-viability abortions that they deem necessary. Providers expect few changes under that law.

Data from the abortion-rights Guttmacher Institute released this week suggest bans in conservative states have pushed the number of abortions higher in states where access has been protected. This includes Maine, although the bump stands out as relatively small.

The numbers: There were more abortions nationally in the first six months of 2023 than there were during a comparable period in 2020, and virtually all states without bans saw their numbers go up.

That was true in Maine, although the 13 percent increase accounting for 150 more abortions was one of the smaller rises in the nation, according to Guttmacher’s estimates based on provider data. Both New Hampshire and Vermont had higher percentage-wise increases, while the biggest ones were in southern and midwestern states near those with bans.

This suggests that the figures heavily depend on geography. This may even out over time as other states institute bans or change their laws in other ways that either restrict abortion access or open it up as Maine has done over and over again during a five-year period of full Democratic control of Augusta.

On the ground: The Guttmacher study is the first sweeping look at what’s likely happening on the issue in Maine since the Dobbs decision. The state has not even released annual abortion data for 2022 yet, with firm data for this year not expected until late 2024. But abortions have been on the rise here.

A Guttmacher study released last year found that Maine saw a 16 percent jump in abortions in 2020 compared with three years earlier, the seventh-highest increase in the country. Experts here pointed to a Mills-backed law that allowed state Medicaid dollars to pay for abortions. It was opposed by Republicans, even the few more friendly to abortion access.

What’s next: Mills and her Democrats won a 2022 campaign in which Republicans were shy to take on abortion and generally argued that Maine’s permissive laws should stay on the books. This year’s legislative fight has the minority party trying to flip the script, arguing that Democrats have gone too far even though abortions late in pregnancy are rare across the country.

Policy implications and the raw politics of abortion are going to have both sides of the debate watching the annual data closely. For now, it’s clear that Maine is standing firmly with states that are expanding access, but geography is making it less of a factor in the national sea change.

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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...