House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross speaks to members of the Judiciary Committee on Monday during a hearing regarding proposed abortion bills, including one from Gov. Janet Mills that would legalize abortion later in pregnancy if deemed medically necessary by a licensed physician. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Abortion was the big draw at the Maine State House on Friday for the second time this week.

A slate of five bills that would restrict access to abortion drew testimony from about 50 people. That’s a lot by typical legislative standards, but far fewer than the 700 who packed the Capitol Monday to testify on Gov. Janet Mills’ bill to expand abortion access.

Her bill to legalize post-viability abortions deemed necessary by a doctor remained the focus of intense debate on Friday. Anti-abortion advocates openly discussed turning to a people’s veto referendum initiative to overturn it if their effort to stop the bill in the Legislature fails, which seems likely.

“Many citizens have deep, deep convictions about this issue,” said Carroll Conley, the executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, when asked by lawmakers about the likelihood of a people’s veto campaign. “We have to consider all our options, absolutely.”

Anti-abortion groups tried such a tactic before, in 2019, after Maine adopted legislation that required MaineCare coverage of abortions. But they couldn’t get enough signatures to earn a spot on a referendum ballot, Rep. Matt Moonen, D-Portland, reminded Conley on Friday.

Conley said he was humbled by the defeat, but told Moonen this time would be different. Last time, advocates struggled to stand out in a crowded field of three people’s veto campaigns. This time, advocates would go door to door to build momentum and gather signatures.


Andy Levesque of Gorham, a board member of Maine Right to Life, warned lawmakers Friday to not forget Monday’s “historic show of pro-life Mainers” when considering Mills’ bill or the anti-abortion bills pending before them Friday.

“So we meet again,” Levesque, a Knights of Columbus member and frequent abortion clinic protester, told the committee. “I hope and pray that our sheer numbers will give you affirmation that the majority of Mainers do not support the governor’s bill to kill our newborns.”

The governor’s bill would allow abortion at any time during pregnancy when deemed necessary by a physician. It would not legalize the killing of newborns.

On Friday, lawmakers considered bills that would eliminate MaineCare coverage of abortions, ban medical abortions by mail or telehealth, require pregnant women to get an ultrasound and wait at least 48 hours before getting an abortion, and outlaw so-called coerced abortions.

Kathleen March of Windham told lawmakers that she still regrets the abortion she had long ago. While she said no one forced her to do it, she doesn’t think the doctors at the time fully explained her options or what would happen during or after the abortion.

“I know firsthand the detriment of having an abortion and the damage it does not only to the baby but the life of the mother,” March said. “Tax dollars should be spent on the basic needs of people to live, not to pay to die. Forcing me to pay for abortions in any way is unconscionable.”


The homeless and the elderly need those tax dollars more, said Ray Dubois of Bangor.

“An ultrasound should be performed before an abortion can be performed,” said Christina Ouellette of Bradley. “An ultrasound would confirm the truth, that it’s not just a clump of cells. Not allowing her to have all the information should be unacceptable.”


Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate laced their testimony with a hodgepodge of statistics and research studies intended to bolster their arguments and discredit those offered by opponents, accusing one another of intentionally trying to mislead or inflame public opinion.

Rep. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, addresses a rally of abortion opponents on the second floor of the state house on Monday morning before committees heard testimony on a number of bills that would expand access to abortion in Maine. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

For example, Rep. Reagan Paul, R-Winterport, told lawmakers that medication abortion was too dangerous for a woman to get with only a telehealth appointment, citing a study that showed 28 women had died while taking the most commonly prescribed two-pill regimen.

“Chemical abortion is dangerous, but this practice gets exponentially more dangerous when telehealth is involved,” said Paul, who introduced L.D. 1249, the telehealth and mail ban. “Telehealth cannot and should not do everything. Prescribing for chemical abortion is one of them.”


In later testimony, however, Dan Morin, a Maine Medical Association spokesman, offered statistical context: The 28 fatalities Paul cited occurred among 5.6 million women taking the pills, and included those who died from unrelated causes, like homicide or drug overdose.

He warned lawmakers to stay out of the exam room and to leave medicine to the doctors.

“Laws are blunt instruments, and medicine changes at unprecedented speed,” Morin said in his testimony in opposition to the bill that would require ultrasounds before an abortion could be performed. “It shouldn’t be codified.”

Maine Republicans have failed to get such bills like these passed before, even under more favorable political conditions. They hope the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which kicked the abortion debate back to the states, could reinvigorate their efforts in Maine.

Opponents accused bill sponsors of trying to bully or shame Mainers seeking to end their pregnancy.

“These proposals are ideologically motivated and in search of problems that either do not exist or are already appropriately addressed in Maine law,” Cait Vaughan, of Bath, a staff member of Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights, said in testifying against the bill removing MaineCare coverage.

The Judiciary Committee will debate the anti-abortion bills on Wednesday. It will hold a public hearing on a bill to enshrine the right to bodily autonomy, including abortion in the state constitution on May 12. No work session date has yet been identified for Mills’ bill.

Mills’ proposal, L.D. 1619, has a whopping 75 House co-sponsors and 20 Senate co-sponsors, all Democrats or independents, which represents a simple majority of both chambers. That is enough to assure passage if all co-sponsors remain steadfast.

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