Planned Parenthood’s political action committee on Monday announced it is supporting U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud for governor.

The 59-year-old Democrat is in a three-way race against incumbent Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, and independent Eliot Cutler.

Cutler’s campaign criticized the endorsement, highlighting Michaud’s voting record on abortion while noting Cutler’s “unwavering” and “lifelong and continuing commitment” to women’s issues.

“Gov. LePage has turned his back on thousands of uninsured Mainers and cut critical funding for family planning services, family planning services that I fought for when I was in the state Senate. As governor, I will not tolerate such attacks,” Michaud said in a written statement. “I will unequivocally support and protect a woman’s right to make her own personal private medical decisions. Women don’t turn to politicians for advice about birth control, mammograms, cancer screenings or treatments. So politicians should not be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions about her pregnancy.”

Nicole Clegg, the director of Planned Parenthood’s Maine Action Fund PAC, said in a statement that the PAC will seek to mobilize its 10,000 members on behalf of Michaud, who started his political career as anti-abortion but is now pro-choice.

“In this race for governor, the stakes for Maine women could not be higher, and the contrast between Mike Michaud and Gov. LePage is clear,” Clegg said. “Mike is a trusted supporter of our issues. He is a strong, thoughtful and experienced leader, and we’re proud to endorse him as the candidate we can count on to move Maine forward. We simply cannot afford another four years of LePage in the Blaine House. We cannot afford to roll back the clock on women’s access to health care.”

LePage opposes abortion and successfully eliminated $400,000 in grant funding for the Family Planning Association of Maine in 2012. That represented 25 percent of the group’s state funding, forcing it to close two clinics and reduce the hours and services at others, according to Kate Brogan, the group’s spokeswoman.

Brent Littlefield, LePage’s political adviser, brushed off Monday’s endorsement, using it instead to accuse Michaud of being politically expedient.

“Michael Michaud has flip-flopped on issue after issue,” Littlefield said. “However, one thing is now crystal clear. Michaud will do whatever it takes to get as much liberal outside money as possible. For Michael Michaud it is not about what is best for Maine, it is about what is best for the national liberal special interests in Washington, D.C.”

There are four Planned Parenthood of Northern New England clinics in Maine. Although the clinics provide abortion services, 95 percent of the group’s work involves cancer screenings, prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, breast health services, pap tests, birth control, sex education, information and counseling.

Cutler’s campaign in a written statement highlighted Michaud’s record on women’s issues, especially on abortion rights.

“It is disappointing that PPNNE chose to endorse a candidate with such a poor record on women’s reproductive rights – one who cast 28 years of anti-choice votes while taking thousands of dollars from right to life groups during his political career,” campaign spokeswoman Crystal Canney said in a written statement.

“We at the Cutler campaign remain proud of Eliot’s lifelong and continuing commitment to allowing all women – regardless of zip code, occupation or level of affluence – to make their own health care decisions and to have access to preventive health care, family planning and abortion services,” Canney continued. “We are confident that Maine women and men will compare the records of the candidates and support Eliot as the candidate whose record and positions on these and other fundamental issues always have been principled and continue to reflect his unwavering core values.”

Michaud, who has been a congressman since 2003, has said he evolved on the abortion issue after hearing personal stories from his constituents.

Since 2010, Michaud has had a 100 percent rating on issues tracked by NARAL Pro Choice America, which has also endorsed the Democrat.

Michaud, who was raised Catholic in a Franco-American family in East Millinocket, began his political career as an opponent of abortion. His 2002 congressional race against Republican Kevin Raye drew a lot of attention because Michaud was anti-abortion, while Raye was pro-choice. Raye was endorsed by NARAL as well as Planned Parenthood.

According to the National Right to Life group, Michaud has voted against abortion in 12 of 49 key votes since 2003.

Michaud in more recent years began voting differently, opposing the anti-abortion group on 26 of 27 key votes, including votes supporting stem cell research and emergency contraception like the morning-after pill for service women who had been raped or sexually assaulted. He also voted against bans on late-term abortion in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life is at risk.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: @randybillings