NEW HAVEN, Conn. — I’m proud to be Eliot Cutler’s daughter for countless reasons. But among his qualities that make me proudest, one stands out: his longstanding and unwavering support of women – especially when it comes to trusting us to make decisions about our health.

I’m passionate about women’s health. It’s in my blood.

My grandmother Catherine “Kay” Cutler spent her life improving access to social services for women and their families. She was president of the Family Service Society; helped found Spruce Run, a shelter and agency for domestic violence survivors; supported family planning and abortion services to Maine women; and in the 1960s organized the Women’s Information and Advisory Service in Bangor, where she taught women about opportunities in the workforce.

FAMILY LEGACY

Kay Cutler had strong convictions – even in times when having them was inconvenient.

My grandmother died in 2003, but her legacy is alive and well. At a young age I was taught that women are in charge of their own bodies. When I was a medical student, my parents applauded my commitment to a career in women’s health. And now as a resident in obstetrics and gynecology, I am privileged to take part in the primary and specialized care of women – including moments of great joy and deep struggle.

Helping women create happy and healthy families is an incredible honor. But my job is also to help ensure that my patients have the ability and support to realize their dreams, whatever those may be. For so many women, there is no greater physical, emotional or psychological health risk than an unwanted or ill-fated pregnancy.

Gov. LePage is unequivocally anti-choice, just as Rep. Mike Michaud, the Democratic candidate for governor, was for most of his legislative career.

I commend the congressman for changing his mind on the issue, but as a young physician discouraged by the countless hurdles my patients must overcome to access affordable and timely contraception and abortion services, I am eager to know how Mr. Michaud plans to reverse the damage he’s already done – and how we can be sure he won’t change his mind again.

Would he reverse his 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 votes to prohibit military facilities from providing abortion care for Maine servicewomen? (He could do this by co-sponsoring The MARCH Act – which would extend federal health coverage of abortions to servicewomen who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest and would permit privately funded abortions to be performed on military bases. But he has not.)

MORE QUESTIONS FOR MICHAUD

Would he renounce his 2009 vote in favor of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which sought to use the Affordable Care Act as a vehicle for barring private insurance plans from covering abortions?

Would he retract his 2012 support for the Hyde Amendment, the ban on federal funding of abortion, which creates all-but-insurmountable hurdles for Maine’s poorest women to access care when they need it the most? Would he fight for reproductive freedom beyond what current law narrowly allows and support public funding for, at the very least, all or most medically necessary abortions, as 17 other states already do?

I’m not optimistic.

According to a 2013 Portland Press Herald interview, Mike Michaud doesn’t believe that topics “as controversial as the abortion issue” deserve focus in this year’s race for governor.

WHAT MATTERS MOST

As someone familiar with the reality of Maine politics, I can understand the congressman’s reluctance to engage in difficult conversations. But I also know that what matters most is not where one stands from the safe distance of the campaign trail, but how one is prepared to lead when faced with the opportunities of elected office.

Promising to protect the constitutional right that allows women to decide when and whether to have a child is important, but it is at the state level where our reproductive rights are most seriously threatened.

Since 2011, governors across the country have signed nearly 200 bills restricting abortion. These statutes make it impossible for clinics to stay open, for physicians to treat women based on medicine and not politics, and for women to make decisions about our pregnancies, our health and our families.

More than ever, Maine needs a governor who understands at the core what it means to respect and protect a woman’s right to control her reproductive destiny.

My father taught me at an early age to stand by my principles – even the unpopular ones – and has given me the courage to do so. I hope you will stand with me, and him.

— Special to the Press Herald