Bishop Robert Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland came out swinging Wednesday against Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed bill to expand abortion access in Maine to later in pregnancy, calling it an evil and radical attempt to normalize a horrific stance that every life is not sacred.

“This is no longer a discussion of heartlessly destroying a fetus, which is immoral on its own,” Deeley said. “This is an unborn child. Everything is ready for birth. It is beyond troubling to see how denying the existence of a human life has become so casual for this governor and members of the Legislature.”

Bishop Robert Deeley Contributed photo

Maine Republicans and anti-abortion advocates may welcome Deeley’s opposition, hoping that the head of a church that claims 286,000 members in Maine might convince some lawmakers to vote against the Mills’ bill, but other religious leaders in the state take a different position on abortion.

“As a Presbyterian, my denomination has been advocating for safe, legal, and affordable healthcare that includes abortion since before Roe v. Wade,” said Jane Field, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches. “As a council, we believe that abortion is an ethical matter between a patient and the doctor.”

The council has seven member faiths, with 437 local congregations and 55,000 members across Maine.

According to Jewish law, a fetus does not become a living person until birth has taken place, which can be defined as when the baby takes its first breath or, in some religious texts, when the head emerges or the majority of its body in a breach birth or c-section.


“So much of the political discourse over abortion assumes you’re weighing the life of a pregnant person against the life of the fetus, but Judaism doesn’t have that tension,” said Molly Curren Rowles, the executive director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine.

The alliance offers services to about 12,000 of Maine’s 15,000 Jews, Curren Rowles said.

On Tuesday, Mills joined Democrats and abortion rights advocates to unveil four abortion bills. In addition to her bill, the proposed legislation would eliminate abortion health insurance co-pays, prevent towns from preempting state abortion laws and protect abortion providers who treat out-of-state patients.

Gov. Janet Mills speaks during a press conference about new legislation to protect abortion rights in Maine on Tuesday. Maine lawmakers who have worked in support of the legislation stand behind her. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Republicans immediately spoke out against the bill, calling it an extreme measure that most Mainers could not support. Some anti-abortion groups shared their concerns but worried that Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers would make it difficult to prevent their passage.

Some religious leaders declined to comment on the expanded abortion measures. Some said they hadn’t read the language in the proposed bill and others said they would save their response for the ballot box. Some, like Field, said they were inclined to support, but wanted to discuss it with church members first.

Abortion emerged as one of the top issues of the last campaign cycle after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last spring, ending a woman’s right to an abortion under the U.S. Constitution. The decision sent the issue of abortion back to the states and led to a wave of abortion bans in red states.


Maine is one of just 17 states with a law that explicitly protects a woman’s right to abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that studies abortion issues across the country. Twelve states have adopted abortion bans, with rape, incest, and maternal health exceptions on a state-by-state basis.

The office for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Enacted in 1993 under Republican Gov. John McKernan, Maine’s law allows abortions up until fetal viability, which generally occurs between 22 and 24 weeks. After that, an abortion may only be performed to preserve the life or health of the mother.

If Mills’ bill is passed, Maine would join six other states and Washington, D.C., in eliminating gestational limits from abortion access laws.


In a prepared statement issued Wednesday, however, Deeley urged “people of good will” to oppose Mills’ proposal to expand the state abortion law beyond the point of viability, which he said had left him with an astonished mind and pained heart.

“Governor Mills has said that the rights of women are not dispensable,” Deeley said. “If only she had the same compassion for children.”


After 24 weeks, the decision to have an abortion should be between a woman, her medical provider and the unborn child, Deeley said. Who is the advocate for the child? he asked. Mills’ bill would eliminate protections for children who cannot speak for themselves, he said.

Deeley quoted Pope Francis: “Scientifically it’s a human life. The textbooks teach us that. But is it right to take it out to solve a problem? This is why the Church is so strict on this issue because accepting this is kind of like accepting daily murder.”

Pope Francis, he said, “reminds us this is evil.”

“The perpetrators of this planned reality are not ‘serving as a light’ and inspiring ‘others around the country’ as they would have you believe,” he said. “They are attempting to normalize a horrific stance that each life is not sacred or deserving of the basic human dignity given by God and nature.”

Planned Parenthood of New England issued a statement on Wednesday evening urging Deeley to listen with compassion to the stories of the dozen or so Maine women who get abortions after 24 weeks every year. Almost all of them have received devastating medical news that led them to that decision.

It referred to Dana Peirce, a Yarmouth veterinarian who learned during her 32-week ultrasound that her baby suffered from a rare genetic mutation that would lead to a painful death in her womb or upon birth. She had to fly to Colorado to get the abortion she needed to end his suffering.


Mills said Peirce’s story was the inspiration for the Act to Improve the Maine Reproductive Privacy Act.


“A man who will never have to face the news she faced should consider their words carefully,” said Nicole Clegg, the group’s chief strategy and impact officer. “Instead of statements shrouded in judgment and cruelty, Mainers are overwhelmingly listening with generosity and kindness.”

Mills did not specifically respond to Deeley’s statement, or answer questions about general reaction to the proposed legislation from other religious leaders or the public, but instead issued a statement of support for the bill and Peirce. It did not answer a question about her religious faith.

“The decision to have an abortion is deeply personal and, as in Dana Peirce’s case, can be heartbreaking,” Mills’ statement read. “The governor believes these are decisions that should be made by a woman and her health care provider, and she believes that no other person in Maine should have to endure the same physical, emotional, psychological, and financial burden that Dana and her husband did in order to receive medical care.”

About a dozen Maine residents a year need late-in-pregnancy abortions, almost always due to the recent discovery of medical fetal anomalies, according to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. In its statistics, 90% of Maine’s abortions – or about 2,000 a year – occur before the 12th week of pregnancy.

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