AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills pledged to fight against any federal efforts to restrict women’s ability to access abortions Tuesday during an event marking the 46th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

“If they want to come after the critical services for Maine people, they are going to have to get through me first as governor,” Mills said to loud cheers from dozens of reproductive rights activists gathered at the State House.

Appearing alongside House Speaker Sara Gideon and other lawmakers, Mills said last year’s appointment of conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh changes the ideological balance of the Supreme Court “and presents one of the most serious risks to safe and legal abortions that we have seen in decades.”

Mi0lls, a Democrat and Maine’s first female governor, said she believes that states will have to serve as “the backstop” against efforts by the Trump administration or Republicans in Congress to restrict abortion.

“The struggle is far from over,” Mills said. “The forces that would undermine or roll back or outright eliminate your right to use birth control and to obtain safe and legal abortions are more powerful today than they have been in decades.”

Tuesday’s event at the State House, which was organized by Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, was one of many planned around the country to commemorate the Jan. 22, 1973, decision declaring that women have a constitutional right to safe abortions. The Roe v. Wade decision did nothing to end the debate over abortion, however, as opponents and defenders continue to battle in state houses and court houses around the country over when and how the medical procedure should be permitted, as well as who should pay for it.

Teresa McCann-Tumidajski, executive director of the Maine Right to Life Committee, said in a response to Tuesday’s press conference that “abortion is never the answer, even if the law enshrines it.”

Gov. Mills said Tuesday, “If they want to come after the critical services for Maine people, they are going to have to get through me.” Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“Today we mourn the loss of over 6o MILLION unborn children whose lives have been taken since the passage of Roe v. Wade,” McCann-Tumidajski said in a statement. “This is the gravest injustice in our nation’s history. We are a voice for those unborn children that we see in ultrasounds; those innocents who cannot defend themselves, who never had a chance to laugh, to run, or feel the warmth of the sun on their faces. Abortion not only kills an unborn baby, it also leaves a lifetime of pain and regret for millions of mothers and fathers.”

Hundreds of abortion opponents gathered in Augusta on Jan. 12 and walked to the State House to mark the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court case. Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage was a regular attendee of the annual “Hands Around the Capitol” anti-abortion rally during his years in office. But the political tide shifted in November after Mills – a former attorney general and co-founder of the Maine Women’s Lobby – won election to the Blaine House and Democrats regained control of the Maine Senate while strengthening their majority in the House.

Frustration over Kavanaugh’s appointment to the court – as well as Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ pivotal vote supporting him – helped thrust reproductive rights into the political spotlight leading up to November’s elections in Maine.

“What are you doing, individually, to get more pro-life candidates elected so we can have a pro-life majority that will protect the pre-born babies?” Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, asked attendees at the Jan. 12 anti-abortion rally. “The pro-abortion people out-worked us and out-spent us in November. That’s the sad truth.”

Lawmakers are expected to consider several bills this session related to reproductive rights.

One bill would require public and private insurance plans to cover abortion as part of pre-natal care while another would allow emergency contraceptives and other non-prescription medications to be sold in vending machines. On the other end of the political spectrum, Republican lawmakers have introduced two bills that would prohibit a woman from terminating a pregnancy once the fetus’s heartbeat is detectable.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, pointed out that women now outnumber men in the Democratic House caucus in the Legislature. So Gideon said the conversation in the House and Senate will not be about just “holding the line” but about moving forward by debating such issues as paid family leave, paid sick days, health care, sexual harassment and other issues that pose burdens on women and families.

“We are going to do things that actually make health care and family planning more accessible and more available to people every day,” Gideon said.

Gideon, who signaled that she was mulling a run against Collins next year following the Kavanaugh vote, said “systematic” attempts to roll back women’s rights and defund Planned Parenthood in Washington is about more than just abortion.

“It’s about men in Washington trying to make decisions about our bodies and about our lives, not their own bodies,” Gideon said. “In 2018, women made history and were elected at record numbers to Congress. But can you imagine if there were 408 female members of Congress and 127 male members in Congress? Would these conversations be taking place?”

Gideon then responded to the audience, adding “I don’t think so either.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH