A draft opinion indicating that the U.S. Supreme Court is about to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision energized Maine Democrats Tuesday, while Republicans remained mostly mum.

Gov. Janet Mills led Democrats in pledging to fight to protect reproductive rights after the leaked document revealed a majority of justices have agreed to strike down constitutional protection of abortion access, effectively handing regulation to the states. Mills and the Maine Democratic Party quickly issued fundraising appeals in response to the news.

The man running for her job, former Gov. Paul LePage, has attended several anti-abortion rallies in Augusta over the years and spoken out against abortion rights. On Tuesday, he issued a statement that emphasized his support for existing abortion restrictions but stopped short of calling for more limits in Maine. The Maine Republican Party declined to answer questions about the leaked document.

A draft opinion obtained by Politico shows a majority of justices support overturning the landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide. The release of the report late Monday prompted people on both sides of the issue to gather outside the Supreme Court to chant and wave signs for hours.

On Tuesday, the court confirmed the draft opinion’s authenticity, stressing that it’s not final, and ordered an investigation into the leak.

The ruling, if finalized as expected this summer, would open the door for state legislatures and governors to impose new restrictions on abortion access or impose outright bans, and it is certain to shake up state-level election campaigns this fall, including in Maine.

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“There are countless women across Maine and America who are worried right now – worried that their right to a safe and legal abortion is near its end; worried about what that uncertainty could mean for their health, their lives, and their futures; and worried about what this draft decision says about the values of our nation and their place in it,” Mills, a Democrat and the first woman to become Maine’s governor, said in a written statement.

“Well, I want to be very clear: unlike an apparent majority of the Supreme Court, I do not consider the rights of women to be dispensable. And I pledge that as long as I am governor, I will fight with everything I have to protect reproductive rights and to preserve access to reproductive health care in the face of every and any threat to it – whether from politicians in Augusta or Supreme Court Justices in Washington,” the statement continued.

The document obtained by Politico was labeled a “1st Draft” of the “Opinion of the Court” in a case challenging Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks. A ruling in the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is expected before the court’s term ends in late June or early July. The draft goes beyond the issue of a 15-week restriction and says there is no constitutional right to legal abortions.

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” the draft opinion states. It was signed by Justice Samuel Alito, one of six conservative justices on the nine-member court.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” it states, referencing the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey that affirmed Roe’s finding of a constitutional right to abortion services but allowed states to place some constraints on the practice. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

STATES COULD DETERMINE ACCESS

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The expectation that Roe v. Wade will be struck down will shift the focus to Congress and state houses, where elected officials will determine abortion laws. Several states already are poised to implement new restrictions based on expectations about the ruling.

“Elections are going to determine” the status of reproductive rights in the United States, said Nicole Clegg, senior vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund. “This is an incredibly painful, disheartening decision.”

Nicole Clegg, senior vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, speaks to the press on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

In her statement, Mills highlighted the work done in Maine in recent years to protect and expand access to reproductive health care. Mills and the Legislature enacted a law allowing physician assistants and advanced practice nurses to perform abortions. The governor also signed legislation to require public and private insurance providers to cover abortion care.

Abortions are allowed under Maine law, but in most cases only before viability, which is defined as “the state of fetal development when the life of the fetus may be continued indefinitely outside the womb by natural or artificial life-supportive systems.”

Viability generally occurs between 22 and 24 weeks. After viability, an abortion may be performed only when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

LePage, the Republican challenging Mills for the Blaine House this fall, emphasized his support for abortion limits in a written statement Tuesday morning, while also expressing support for a ban on federal funding for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.

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“As a child of a severely dysfunctional family, with domestic abuse that left me homeless, I know my mother faced difficult decisions and I am glad she chose life,” LePage said. “Maine law already prohibits abortion after viability and our laws should keep pace with modern, medical technology. Late-term abortions are extremely disturbing to most Maine people. The case before the U.S. Supreme Court is on state prohibitions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.”

LEPAGE SUPPORTS ABORTION

The reference to late-term abortions is not clear given that it is used to describe abortions performed after 22 to 24 weeks. And while the Mississippi law would ban abortion after 15 weeks, the draft ruling would strike down any federal limit and open the door to outright bans.

LePage’s spokesperson, Brent Littlefield, did not respond to a request to interview LePage or to questions about whether LePage meant to imply that abortions after 15 weeks should be considered late-term or should be banned.

And Littlefield did not respond to questions about whether LePage would support efforts to further restrict or prohibit abortions in Maine if re-elected and if Republicans take control of the Legislature.

“Governors receive legislation on their desk from locally elected state representatives and state senators,” LePage said, without acknowledging that governors also submit legislation. “In Maine, our elected officials listen to the people. As governor, I have a proven history of supporting life, including helping our most vulnerable women and children facing domestic abuse to our vulnerable senior citizens.”

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During his previous two terms, LePage attended several anti-abortion rallies in Augusta. In 2016, LePage told attendees at the Maine Right to Life’s annual Hands Around the Capitol event that “we should not have abortion.” And Littlefield described LePage, a Franco-American Catholic, as anti-abortion in 2014, as did a previous spokesperson in 2011.

The Maine Republican Party’s platform, adopted over the weekend, states the party believes “in the sanctity of human life – from conception to natural death.” It also supports the “nuclear family,” defined as a man and a woman, by encouraging the birth and adoption of child, as well as supporting faith-based family resources, including adoption and crisis pregnancy services, which typically discourage people from getting an abortion.

The platform also calls for the defense of the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gives states all powers not delegated to, or prohibited by, the federal government.

Maine Republican Party officials declined to be interviewed or comment on the leaked Supreme Court opinion, or about what a Republican-controlled state government might do.

“Surely we won’t comment on what a group of independent-minded legislators representing a diverse array of Maine communities with their own philosophies and beliefs, who have not even been elected yet, would do,” Executive Director Jason Savage said in an email. “It would actually be quite a ridiculous assumption for us to think we could somehow predict that scenario, doing so based on an unprecedented ‘leak’ that is not verified crosses into folly.” The draft was later verified by the court as authentic.

DEMOCRATS VOW TO FIGHT

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Democrats, meanwhile, issued statements stressing that abortion remains legal and that they will continue to fight for that right.

“The future of abortion rights in Maine is on the ballot this November,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Drew Gattine said in a written statement. “We are fortunate to currently have a governor in Janet Mills who is a passionate defender of abortion rights and a Democratically controlled legislature that will steadfastly protect those rights.”

Sen. President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said in a statement that Senate Democrats rejected “six outrageous anti-abortion proposals” from Republicans in 2021.

“I know people are scared, so let me be clear – Maine Senate Democrats are committed to protecting Mainers’ right to abortion,” Jackson said.

Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, said the draft opinion was “deeply disturbing and unsettling.”

“Now more than ever, we need strong state protections from anti-abortion attacks,” Daughtry said. “Over the past two years, my colleagues and I have defeated several anti-abortion bills. We will continue to stand up and ensure that everyone can exercise their rights to reproductive freedom – without fear, judgment, punishment or uncertainty.”

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Nicholas Jacobs, assistant professor of government at Colby College, said the leaked opinion will likely help motivate Democratic voters who may not have otherwise voted during the midterm elections.

A RULING COULD AFFECT TURNOUT

Jacobs said it was telling that Mills and Democrats came out forcefully against the court’s position, while LePage and Republicans were relatively subdued.

“It would seem to be an issue at least in the short run that benefits Democrats over Republicans in getting people enthusiastic about elections that a lot of times Democrats sit out on,” Jacobs said. “Turnout matters. And turnout is going to matter in these state and local races.”

According to a 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center, 64 percent of Mainers surveyed indicated that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 33 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases. That was a slight drop from the 68 percent that supported abortion in 2007.

Jacobs said polling on abortion is tricky because slight changes in wording can produce a different outcome.

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Jacobs shared the results from a survey conducted Sept. 29 through Oct. 2, 2020 by Harvard University’s Cooperative Election Study, formerly the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. That poll showed that 60 percent of Mainers surveyed believed that women should be allowed have an abortion as a matter of choice, while 44 percent believed that abortions should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.

About 59 percent supported prohibiting all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Jacobs believes that any Supreme Court opinion overturning abortion rights could especially motivate Democrats in the 2nd Congressional District, where Rep. Jared Golden, a pro-choice Democrat, is expected to face a tough rematch against his Republican predecessor, Bruce Poliquin, who must first survive a primary before focusing on the general election.

“(Golden) is somebody who would have traditionally suffered from the turnout deficit and he’s going to be somebody who will benefit,” Jacobs said. “His position on abortion and Roe are very clear. He’s won elections in the 2nd District holding that position. The Democratic party is going to make this an issue and it’s going to turn out 2nd District voters largely to his benefit.”

Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this report, which also includes material from The Associated Press.

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