“On the ballot.”

It’s become a catchphrase of the Democratic Party in the last few weeks. Abortion rights are, we’re told time and time again – by a host of political hopefuls, elected representatives, the speaker of the House, the president and, this week, by Gov. Mills – “on the ballot in November.”

Be that as it may, there are Democrats who find themselves with some time and some capacity to take action on the matter – Mills and members of her administration among them.

At an event in Portland on Wednesday, however, the governor told assembled reporters that, while it was “a little preliminary” to say it, the Maine Constitution might already guarantee the right to abortion; no further action on the document required.

Before going any further, let us note that Mills’ record on abortion access is robust, to say the least. In 2019, the governor signed into law a bill permitting a wider group of medical professionals to perform abortion. Another law passed by her administration requires MaineCare and private insurers to cover the cost of the procedure. In early July, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, she signed an executive order protecting people who come from other states seeking an abortion in Maine.

Against this backdrop, the preview of her administration’s neither-here-nor-there machinations on state constitutional reform may seem surprising. Mills, who has been strikingly untalkative on an array of matters this summer, signaled to the public – whether or not she meant to – that, in short, we could be just fine. 


The Attorney General’s Office confirmed it is conducting a review of the relevant section, or sections, of the constitution. A spokesperson for the office declined to get into specifics. A law professor reached by the Press Herald gave his best guess in Thursday’s paper

The bottom line is that it’s being chewed on, closely considered by a number of parties. If that type of analysis is necessary to determine the provisions’ pliability, the provisions are probably pliable enough to warrant an explicit addition on abortion.

An attempt to amend the state constitution would be time-intensive and cost-intensive; proposals must receive the support of two-thirds of the Legislature before going to a statewide referendum. But beyond that not-insignificant political risk, there aren’t many compelling reasons to leave the right to abortion open to an interpretation that could go either way. 

After Roe v. Wade was overturned, New York promptly embarked on an effort to enshrine the right to an abortion in its constitution. Vermont and California will vote on whether to explicitly recognizing the right in November. In Kansas next Tuesday, the opposite question will be put to voters: Do they want to eliminate any protection of abortion from their state’s constitution? Kentucky will pose the same question later this year.

“So sad that we have to relive the fight,” Mills said at the Portland event (she was receiving the endorsement of Planned Parenthood’s political action committee). “That we have to make the same arguments we made decades ago.”

It would be sad, too, if an opportunity to comprehensively secure the right to abortion in Maine was missed by the people best placed to do that securing. No reason to leave it up to chance when so much is at stake.

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