Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Janet Mills marked the 46th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion with a news conference signaling that her administration would work to counter anti-abortion efforts at the state and national levels.
Surrounded at Tuesday’s event by women legislators, the Democratic governor took aim at the notion that President Donald Trump’s “deeply dangerous” chipping away of safeguards under Title X would affect Maine women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care.
Maine is one of the most hands-off states on abortion — in law and attitude. Maine Democrats are looking to further expand access during this legislative session in ways that conservatives oppose and national events make Mills’ fight against Trump mostly symbolic right now.
Anti-abortion advocates’ power largely rests with Trump now, while abortion rights groups are leaning on states. In his first two years in office, Trump has signaled his desire to see Roe v. Wade overturned by suggesting abortion law regulations should fall to individual states — not the federal government. It’s hard to tell how much he can stride toward that goal given the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives elected in 2018.
Abortion rights advocates are largely focusing on states where Democrats won — including Maine. Anti-abortion advocates are relying on the Trump administration’s regulatory power and the conservative judges the president has appointed — including U.S. Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
The Trump administration has reversed many of former President Barack Obama’s efforts to increase access to contraceptives. Earlier this month, a federal judge blocked a new rule that would make it easier for employers to deny female employees access to contraceptives through a company’s health insurance policy. Mills portrayed limits on access to contraceptives as part of an overall assault on reproductive rights, with an end game of curtailing access to abortion.
“Forces that would undermine, or roll back, or outright eliminate your right to use birth control or to obtain a safe and legal abortion are more powerful today than they have been in decades,” Mills said. “States are now the backstop to prevent the erosion of reproductive rights.”
With new legislative clout, Democrats could expand abortion access in Maine, a state that has historically supported abortion rights more than most others. NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, places Maine among the 14 states where abortion access is most protected. A 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center said 64 percent of Mainers supported legal abortion in all or most cases, a mark that only lagged behind six other states. Maine is also one of the least religious states in the U.S., according to Pew.
All of this has kept abortion from being a hot-button issue in Maine politics at large. Access didn’t change meaningfully under Paul LePage, Mills’ anti-abortion predecessor, though anti-abortion forces are dominant in the state’s Republican grass-roots.
Last year, Maine’s high court heard a case from abortion providers who argue that the state’s rule against paying for abortions with Medicaid funding — except in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother’s life — violates the Constitution. Maine follows federal laws, but 15 other states exceed them, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Legislature will consider several abortion-related bills in 2019, including proposals from Democrats that would fund abortions under Medicaid. The anti-abortion Christian Civic League of Maine is vowing to fight them, but Democrats hold the keys in Augusta through 2020.