AUBURN — Opponents of state laws that legalize medication-assisted suicide and require Medicaid and private insurers to cover abortions are enlisting some of the state’s largest Christian churches to gather enough voter signatures to put the laws on hold before they go into effect next month.

Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said Thursday the effort to mobilize volunteers to collect signatures has been underway for over two weeks.

Organizers, backed by two political action committees, must collect 63,067 valid signatures for each petition and turn them in by Sept. 18 to block the laws from taking effect until they go to state voters in March.

Organizers are gathering signatures at churches – often before and after services – in Auburn, Portland and Waterville this weekend, with churches in Oakland and Windham on the schedule for next week. The effort is also backed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

Conley said the strategy of taking petitions to the pulpit and the pew has worked in the past for faith-based opponents to laws passed by the Legislature.

“You have a concentration of like-minded people in those congregations,” Conley said. The effort is aimed at getting valid voter signatures and also finding grassroots volunteers to take petitions to the street or door-to-door in hopes of meeting the tight deadline.

Supporters of the new abortion law say it also will ensure access to other important health services, especially for low-income women.

Conley said the two peoples veto efforts align with the underlying values of many churchgoers who oppose taxpayer funding of abortion and allowing a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of medication for somebody dying from a terminal illness.

Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said that taking petitions to the churches has worked for faith-based opponents of laws passed by the Legislature. “You have a concentration of like-minded people in those congregations,” he said. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“The life issue is just one of those issues that is core to our mission,” Conley said. The league’s website lists upcoming signature drives or petition education events but also provides forms and guidance for those who may want to collect signatures on their own.

About a dozen people turned out Thursday night for a training session at the East Auburn Baptist Church conducted by Mike McClellan, a former state lawmaker and now a lobbyist at the State House for the Christian Civic League.

McClellan went into detail about how to collect voter signatures and offered tips that included being polite and not arguing with people who might have different opinions about the new laws.

“If God wants us to win, we are going to win anyway, so don’t harass people,” McClellan said.

He said the league and its allies were building a growing network of volunteers and that the league is in contact with more than 300 churches statewide.

Opponents of the laws missed the window to get the question placed on the ballot in November, but they could still delay them if they gather enough signatures before the laws officially go into effect on Sept. 18. If successful, the veto questions would appear on the ballot during the next statewide election, which because of a new primary law passed this year will be on March 3.

The Christian Civic League has petition coordinators in most of Maine’s 16 counties and appears to be running one of the best-organized of the 12 petition drives currently underway. Opponents of laws mandating childhood vaccination for school children and others, including a ban on the controversial practice of “gay conversion therapy,” are also now in the field trying to make the tight deadlines.

Although both the league and the Catholic diocese offered testimony against the medication-assisted suicide law during a legislative hearing, other clergy from less conservative congregations testified in favor of the measure.

Among them was Anne Fowler, an Episcopal priest from Portland, who described in detail her experience supporting another priest as he died at 47 from a malignant brain tumor.

She related how her friend lost his ability to recognize people and communicate and was in great pain daily until his death.

“I was the witness to his life’s end, and a miserable, merciless, and cruel end it was,” Fowler told lawmakers in April. “He died like an animal alone in the wilderness.”

The Legislature narrowly approved the bill, which passed the House of Representatives by a single vote, and Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, signed the bill into law but said it was the most difficult decision she has made as governor.

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