People line the hallway outside the House of Representatives holding signs for and against L.D. 1619, “An Act to Improve Maine’s Reproductive Privacy Laws,” at the Maine State House in Augusta on June 22. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Opponents of Maine’s new abortion law have decided to forgo a costly campaign to overturn it through a “people’s veto” referendum.

The Christian Civic League of Maine and Speak Up For Life had until the end of business Wednesday to apply for petitions to block Gov. Janet Mills’ legislation to expand access to post-viability abortions. But both have decided to focus on electing anti-abortion candidates to state office instead.

Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, speaks in opposition to Gov. Janet Mills’ bill to expand abortion access beyond viability during a news conference at the State House in Augusta in April. Mills signed the bill into law and it will take effect in October. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“The course that holds the greatest promise for the future of LIFE in Maine is clear – electing principled legislators in the 2024 election and subsequent races,” Speak Up For Life’s founder, Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, told supporters in a lunchtime email blast on Wednesday.

“We must continue to build on our efforts over the last six months and mobilize our Speak Up For Life community as we transition from the legislative battle to campaigns and candidate support,” Libby said. “Together, we will begin to reclaim our state, one House district at a time.”

In an August newsletter, Carroll Conley, director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said his immediate goal will be to harness the momentum created by the opposition to the law to recruit and train political candidates. He said the bill had stirred anti-abortion advocates in unprecedented ways.

“I believe the most effective and efficient investment of our resources is focusing on the 2024 elections,” Conley wrote. “Our policy/campaign team has already begun researching our voter guides and analyzing on which house and senate districts to strategically focus.”


The organization’s “long game,” Conley said, is to build its church ambassador network, a group of conservative pastors who work with government leaders to promote Christian values and recruit those from within their churches to run for office. The network is based on a model developed in Iowa in 2015.

Without a people’s veto referendum drive, the new abortion law is scheduled to take effect in October.

The Christian Civic League of Maine failed the last two times it tried to use a people’s veto to block new Maine abortion laws.

In 2019, it led a coalition that couldn’t get enough signatures to secure a ballot spot to repeal new bills mandating MaineCare coverage of abortion and allowing physician assistants to perform abortions.

In 1999, the league and other anti-abortion groups, with the financial support of the Catholic Church, successfully petitioned for a referendum on what was then called partial-birth abortions, a vaguely worded reference to abortions performed late in pregnancy.

Voters easily defeated the ballot measure, 232,113-185,541. Abortion advocates believe their ranks have only increased since then, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to strike down federal abortion protections and send the issue back to the states.


While the Christian Civic League targeted all abortion bills in the last session, Speak Up for Life focused its attention solely on Mills’ legislation in hopes of appealing to moderate abortion rights defenders, calling Mills’ bill extreme and saying it could open the door to medically unnecessary abortions up until birth.


Maine’s newest abortion law was inspired by Dana Peirce of Yarmouth, who had to fly to Colorado to get an abortion when a routine scan discovered a fatal fetal abnormality in her 32nd week of pregnancy. But bill opponents say the law permits doctors to OK post-viability abortions for other reasons, like job loss.

Speak Up For Life helped pack the State House to fight the bill. Its members lobbied Mills to consider adding fatal fetal anomaly as an exemption to the state’s post-viability abortion ban, which only allowed abortions after 24 weeks if the mother’s life or health was at risk.

But Mills refused, saying medical decisions ought to be made in the exam room, not the State House.

Although they failed to stop Mills’ legislation, the leaders of Christian Civic League and Speak Up For Life believe their campaigns were effective because they forced a Democratic Party that controls the Legislature and Blaine House to scramble to save an unpopular bill that at one time had seemed like a done deal.


But abortion rights advocates like Nicole Clegg, acting CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, question such a characterization, saying that Mainers strongly oppose abortion restrictions, including those that would force people like Peirce out of state to get the medical care she needed.

“Restrictions on abortion are deeply unpopular with the people, in blue states like Maine but even in deeply red states like Ohio,” Clegg said. “What we are seeing, and what pollsters are confirming, is that access to safe, legal abortion is a dominant political issue, both here and across much of the country.”

Abortion rights advocates won a major victory Tuesday in politically conservative Ohio, where voters rejected a measure to raise the threshold to adopt constitutional amendments from a simple majority to a 60% vote. Republican lawmakers had sought the change ahead of a vote in November to enshrine abortion access in the state constitution.

Last year, shortly after Roe v. Wade fell, conservative Kansas kicked off a wave of victories for abortion rights advocates. Since then, Kentucky and Montana voters have rejected anti-abortion measures. And Michigan, California and Vermont voters added abortion rights to their state constitutions.


Maine lawmakers will consider a constitutional amendment to protect personal reproductive autonomy from Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, when they return to the State House in January. In Maine, a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature before the matter can be put to voters.


Local abortion rights supporters cheered in July when the Maine Legislature narrowly passed a bill that puts Maine among just six states and Washington, D.C. with similar abortion protections. Some of these are codified into state law, while others are embedded in their state constitutions.

About a dozen people a year leave Maine to get post-viability abortions, usually for fatal fetal anomalies.

In 2021, 72% of all abortions in Maine, or 1,373 out of 1,915, were performed in the first nine weeks of pregnancy, and 94%, or 1,806 out of 1,915, were done within the first trimester, according to the most recent state data. None were performed after 20 weeks.

To repeal a new law, a Maine voter must file an application with the Maine Department of the Secretary of State within 10 days of adjournment of the legislative session in which the law was passed. Wednesday was the filing deadline for a law passed in the last legislative session.

If the office approved an application, petitioners would have had 90 calendar days from adjournment, or until Oct. 24, to collect at least 67,682 petition signatures, which is at least 10% of the total votes cast for governor in 2022. All those who sign such petitions must be registered Maine voters.

If their petition drive had been successful, the changes to the state’s 30-year-old abortion law – which legalizes all post-viability abortions approved by a licensed medical provider – would have been put on hold until referendum voters weighed in on March 5, 2024, when Maine holds its presidential primary.

Since 1909, there have been 29 instances in which petitioners have used a people’s veto to try to stop a law from going into effect. It has worked more often than not, suspending 17 laws that ranged from a 1909 law that would have divided York to the 2018 law trying to overturn Maine’s ranked-choice voting law.

But the most recent attempt to use a people’s veto failed. In 2020, despite vocal opposition from conservatives, Maine voted 281,750 to 105,214 to uphold a law removing religious and philosophical immunization exemptions for students and childcare and healthcare workers.

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