Opponents of two new laws expanding access to abortion coverage and eliminating exemptions for childhood vaccinations have launched “people’s veto” campaigns to attempt to overturn the laws  at the ballot box in November.

The Maine Secretary of State’s Office has received initial paperwork for referendum campaigns targeting two bills recently passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Janet Mills: one requiring MaineCare as well as private insurers to pay for abortions, and the other eliminating religious and philosophical exemptions for childhood vaccinations.

Paperwork is only the first step in a people’s veto campaign. Once the filers and state elections officials agree on the language of a referendum question, organizers will have until Sept. 18 to submit at least 63,067 signatures from registered Maine voters to qualify for the November ballot.

A new law that eliminates broad exemptions for getting children immunized against contagious diseases is one of two being targeted by “people’s veto” campaigns that hope to overturn the laws at the ballot box in November. Shutterstock.com

If the groups gather enough signatures, implementation of the new laws is put on hold pending the outcome of the referendum campaign.

“We are proceeding with the (vaccination bill) veto,” said Cara Sacks, co-chair of Mainers for Health and Parental Rights, which filed an application to block and overturn  L.D. 798 last week. “We are excited to get this on the road and give Maine people a voice.”

Supporters of the bill contend ending the exemptions is necessary to address the rising rates of un-immunized children in Maine and to prevent the spread of measles, mumps, pertussis and other infectious diseases. Opponents argue the bill infringes on the rights of parents concerned about side-effects from vaccines or with religious objections.

On Tuesday, a coalition of organizations including the Christian Civic League of Maine, Concerned Women for America and Maine Right to Life filed paperwork to block and attempt to overturn L.D. 820. That bill, which Mills signed into law, will require Maine’s Medicaid program and private insurers to cover abortion if they also pay for maternity care.

Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said it was clear as early as December that abortion opponents were going to have to fight against what he calls “taxpayer-funded abortions.”

“I don’t think anybody is excited that we have to do this, but it’s really a no-brainer because I have never, ever seen this type of response from Maine citizens and from coalition partners” in other states, Conley said. “This is a line too far.”

But Planned Parenthood of Northern New England pointed to their own polling data showing that the majority of Mainers support guaranteeing insurance coverage of abortion services. And in this case, the potential “people’s veto” campaign will be asking voters to take away coverage granted by lawmakers, said Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood.

“Maine voters have traditionally been reluctant  to take away the rights of and protections of people,” Clegg said. “Trying to take away coverage of abortion from people who desperately need it is going to be deeply unpopular.”

Those two issues were among the most contentious of the 2019 legislative session that ended early last Thursday. Democrats seized the opportunity of their majorities in both the House and Senate as well as Gov. Janet Mills’ election to pass a host of progressive bills that would not have been possible last year.

A third “people’s veto” campaign could focus on a bill allowing terminally ill patients to be prescribed a lethal dose of medication. The paperwork targeting the medication-assisted suicide or “death with dignity” bill had yet to be filed as of Tuesday afternoon.

 


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