AUGUSTA — Anti-abortion activists descended on the State House on Saturday afternoon, as Republican lawmakers mount uphill challenges to restrict federal and state abortion law.

The annual rally — featuring speeches from Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin this year — culminated in a march from St. Michael School to the Maine State House, where demonstrators joined hands around the building. A bell tolled 42 times, one for each year since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion nationwide.

Earlier this month, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill that would ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. It should pass the Republican-led House after a scheduled vote on Thursday, the same day that thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators will march on Washington.

However, it probably won’t get far. Republicans control the Senate, but the bill may not get the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster; and President Barack Obama, a Democrat, probably would veto it. Also, some congressional Republicans are concerned that raising the abortion issue could alienate young voters and women, according to the National Journal.

On Saturday, Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District who won election in 2014, told about 400 activists that he is “someone who shares your values” in Washington.

But when asked afterward if he would support the 20-week ban bill, Poliquin declined to answer, saying, “I don’t want to comment until I see the language,” although he called his stance on abortion “very clear.” When asked if he shared concerns about the vote’s political timing, Poliquin said party leaders “will bring up the issues that are important to Americans and families in our district and throughout Maine.”

Maine has some of the nation’s most permissive abortion laws, but its abortion rate lags behind most states: For example, only Maine, Connecticut and the District of Columbia allow minors to get abortions without parental consent, according to the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute, while in 2010, Maine’s legal abortion rate was 16th-lowest among states reporting data to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

However, there’s a perennial effort in the Maine Legislature to roll back abortion law. A bill to be sponsored this year by Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, is expected to challenge consent law, mirroring a bill he sponsored that was defeated in 2013 amid opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, among other groups.

Even Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, which helped organize Saturday’s rally, agreed that it will be hard to change Maine’s abortion laws this year, with Democrats holding a majority in the House of Representatives. He said his side has “much, much work to be done” to lobby legislators there. But he said the 2014 elections showed that abortion can be a winning issue for Republicans, giving Poliquin’s victory in rural Maine as an example.

If bills restricting abortion got to LePage’s desk, activists could count on a signature. In his speech, the Republican commended the goal of “trying to repeal and eliminate the heinous act of abortion.”

No matter how the bills turn out, they will see heated debate in public hearings, with activists dug in on both sides.

“You think of all these babies who have been aborted,” said Elaine Bridge, 80, of Manchester, who attended Saturday’s rally. “What would they have contributed to this country had they lived?”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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