Advocates are preparing for a high-stakes political debate over abortion in the days and weeks ahead, handing out flyers at college campuses and street fairs, training volunteers at churches, and staging phone banks, news conferences and statehouse rallies to lobby for their cause.

The question is not whether abortion should be banned in Maine. There are five bills to restrict abortion access, but they face almost impossible odds in a state where Democrats control the Legislature and the Blaine House. The question here is whether to expand Maine’s existing abortion protections.

“Across the country, fundamental rights and freedoms are being taken away or restricted at an alarming rate,” said House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, at the start of the session. “But the opposite is happening here in Maine. We are serving as a light that inspires others.”

The bill inspiring the most debate is Gov. Janet Mills’ proposal to allow abortions whenever a physician deems them necessary. Current law allows abortion for any reason up to the point of fetal viability, or at about 24 weeks, and after that if a mother’s life or health is at risk.

“Fundamentally, this forthcoming legislation recognizes that every pregnancy is different, that the decision to have an abortion is deeply personal, and that that decision should be made by a woman and her health care provider – not by politicians,” Mills spokesman Ben Goodman said.

While she is likely to be the point person, Mills has allies to guide the abortion bills on their legislative journey, including Talbot Ross and two members of the committee that will consider many of them, Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, and Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, D-South Portland.


“It’s a lot, but the abortion fight, it’s been a lot for ages,” Reckitt said. “The Supreme Court wreaked havoc in other states, but it helped move the needle in Maine. If I’m wrong, I’ll be devastated, but I think the elections told us all we need to know about where Maine stands on abortion.”

Mills’ bill is expected to come out this week. The exact language is not yet available, but those who saw a draft last week say it keeps the section of current law that allows abortion for any reason up to viability, but adds language saying abortions after viability will be left up to the pregnant person and their doctor.

It also removes criminal penalties for doctors performing later-in-pregnancy abortions for reasons other than risk to the life or health of the mother. State law classifies those as Class D crimes now, the highest class of misdemeanors, punishable by up to 364 days of jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Travis Longstaff, public affairs organizer for Planned Parenthood, works the booth set up for First Friday and Portland Public Health Celebration event in Congress Square park Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Even as Maine’s Legislature braces for its first abortion debates since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling and considers a proposal to expand access, the state’s abortion providers could soon be forced to stop using a common medication to end pregnancies because of a federal judge’s ruling late Friday in Texas. A competing ruling minutes later by a federal judge in Washington state put the future use of mifepristone in a legal limbo that is ultimately headed for the Supreme Court.

Mills has said she was inspired to propose her legislation by the story of a Maine woman, Dana Peirce of Falmouth, who had to fly to Colorado to end her 32-week pregnancy after a scan revealed a rare, painful and undoubtedly fatal genetic mutation.

Gut-wrenching personal stories like Peirce’s – who at the most trying time in her life was not able to obtain the medical care she needed in her home state – can inspire state lawmakers as well as governors to take action.


It is a lesson Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund has put to use in its rallies, phone banking and door-to-door canvassing since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last June, a decision that ended federal abortion protections and kicked the issue back to states.

The political arm of the northern New England health clinic has been working even before the Dobbs ruling broke to shore up Maine’s abortion protections, executive director Nicole Clegg said. That meant electing candidates who support abortion rights.

Merchandise at the Planned Parenthood booth set up for First Friday and Portland Public Health Celebration event in Congress Square park. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“We’ve been mobilizing for more than a year,” Clegg said. “We’ve reached out to thousands of people, worked with hundreds of candidates. We’re not doing anything special to prepare for the (legislative) session, but we’ve done everything we can to prepare for this moment. We’re ready.”

Clegg said she expects that abortion opponents will bus in placard-carrying protesters to pack committee hearings in hopes of pressuring lawmakers to roll back state abortion rights. That hasn’t worked in any of Clegg’s past eight legislative sessions, and it won’t work this year, either, she said.

Last month, the fund circulated an email message from a Portland woman named Zoe, who, like Peirce, had to fly to Colorado for a later-in-pregnancy abortion after doctors found severe fetal abnormalities in a scan performed beyond the 24-week window.

“I was at the most vulnerable moment of my life,” Zoe wrote. “My husband and I had just been given life-shattering news by doctors we trusted. Doctors who were forced by lawmakers to tell us ‘we’re sorry, but we can’t help you.’”


In the email, Zoe said lawmakers were being asked to co-sponsor Mills’ bill to remove politicians from private medical decisions. She urged readers to ask their lawmakers to stand behind their campaign promises to protect and expand reproductive rights and freedoms.

“This is our opportunity,” Zoe told readers at the end of her call to action. “I’m putting myself out there and sharing my story in the hopes no one will experience added suffering and cruelty at the hands of the law the way I did.”

The email was sent to the thousands who have signed up for Planned Parenthood information.

Opponents argue that the Mills bill is too broad and could legalize later-in-pregnancy abortions that do not involve fetal anomalies. Stories such as Peirce’s are heartbreaking, they say, but could be addressed by expanding the post-viability exemption list.

Opponents accuse Mills of reneging on her campaign pledge to leave the state abortion law alone.

After introducing the bill, Mills pushed back at critics and called it a rational, compassionate proposal that would help people like Peirce and not open any abortion floodgates. She said she didn’t break any promises – that voters knew they were electing an ardent abortion defender.


The number of people seeking abortions after the first trimester is small. In 2021, the most recent year data is available, 94% of the 1,905 abortions conducted in Maine were done within the first trimester of pregnancy, or up to 14 weeks. The remaining 107 occurred before 20 weeks.

Abortion-rights advocates note the chilling effect of Maine’s existing viability restrictions. The state law allows abortions for any reason through about 24 weeks, but doctors won’t do them after 20 weeks out of fear that imprecise gestational dating could lead to prosecution. Instead, they send the mothers out of state.

Rep. Reagan Paul, R-Winterport, speaks Tuesday to a crowded conference room about “Understanding Chemical Abortion” during a Hands at the Capitol event at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Last week, about 250 abortion opponents packed the Hall of Flags to hear Assistant House Minority Leader Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, and Assistant Senate Minority Leader Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, recite Bible verses and revel in last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“We have gone so far past what the abortion advocates used to say they wanted: abortion that was safe, legal and rare,” Keim said. “Now this Legislature will soon be considering what the abortion industry really wants: abortion on demand.”

Maine Right to Life Director Karen Vachon urged the crowd to bring the Dobbs momentum to Maine.

“We must hold the Mills administration accountable,” Vachon said to loud cheers. “Gov. Mills made a campaign promise that she wouldn’t expand abortion in Maine. She lied. This is not Maine, the way life should be. She is turning Maine Vacationland into Maine abortion land.”


Maine anti-abortion groups are targeting all abortion bills, but Speak Up for Life, a group founded by Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, is focused solely on Mills’ legislation, calling it an extreme proposal that could push some moderate Democrats to rise up in protest.

Rep. Laurel Libby, a Republican from Auburn, grabs on to her Speak Up for Life binder while speaking in front of a crowd during an event at New City Church in Bath on March 25. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“I believe in the sanctity of life, from the moment of conception until the moment of death, so for me, abortion is never OK, but I realize many people disagree,” said Libby, a former nurse. “But this, this is abortion on demand. Most people do not believe in late-term abortion.”

Libby held her first Speak up for Life workshop in Auburn in February, two weeks after Mills unveiled her abortion bill. Libby told the crowd about the bills in play and then gave them a crash course in citizen advocacy, focusing on how to lobby lawmakers and testify at public hearings.

“Gov. Mills wants to expand abortion up to birth,” Libby told 150 people who turned out to a seminar at New City Church in Bath earlier this month. “We must work to stop her. But we can’t do it alone. We need to reach out to people we aren’t used to working with if we want to stop this.”

In two months, Libby has spoken to 1,500 people at eight seminars held in churches from Presque Isle to Mexico, Maine. Some say they will use the skills learned there to lobby on other political issues, like vaccine mandates and gender-affirming school counseling.

It was a conservative crowd, with some attendees struggling to testify calmly on bills they consider nothing short of murder, but Libby urged her audiences to dial back the rhetoric and seek ways to reach across the aisle. History suggests they’ll need all the help they can get.


In 2019, abortion opponents alone couldn’t stop legislation to expand MaineCare to cover abortion, and that was when Republicans had bigger numbers and six Democrats on their side of the issue. At least in part because of Planned Parenthood’s campaign work, only two Democratic abortion opponents serve in the Legislature now.

But Libby says she has already acquired some unexpected partners as she works the church circuit.

Attendees stop and talk with Rep. Laurel Libby, a Republican from Auburn, during a Speak Up for Life event at New City Church in Bath on March 25. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

An abortion-rights supporter, Thom Page, attended the Auburn workshop. He had doubts when he read about Mills’ bill. The recently retired obstetrician has delivered thousands of babies and performed a handful of first-trimester abortions. He doesn’t think Maine’s abortion law should be radically altered.

“I think Maine’s law is a good law – it’s functional, and we need it,” Page said. “But after viability, well, I can tell you the youngest delivery I ever did was 24 weeks … and he’s just fine. That, that sticks with me.”

As for third-trimester abortions? “Yikes,” he said. “They’re just ghastly. Only as a last resort, if then.”

Mills’ bill isn’t the only one looming on the State House horizon.


Democrats have introduced other abortion bills that would enshrine the right in the constitution, ban towns from overriding state abortion law, protect providers who treat patients who reside in states that restrict abortion, and eliminate abortion health insurance copays.

Republicans have their own bills to roll back MaineCare coverage of abortion, ban medication abortions prescribed by telehealth or delivered by mail, and force insurance companies to cover a second opinion when a doctor prescribes abortion – but most of their focus is on preventing any abortion expansions.

Anti-abortion advocates have faced an uphill battle in Maine for decades.

Maine’s 30-year-old abortion law was developed by Republican Gov. John McKernan. Six years later, a Catholic Church-backed referendum to ban surgical abortions after the first trimester failed.

When the justices struck down Roe v. Wade, which essentially made abortion a state-controlled issue, about half of the U.S. states enacted or began discussing abortion bans. In Maine, the issue helped Mills defeat Republican former Gov. Paul LePage to win a second term.

In February, about two-thirds of Mainers said they supported abortion after 24 weeks if a doctor deemed it medically necessary, according to a poll of 800 people from all corners and age groups in Maine that was conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.


Political science professors in Maine who follow state politics don’t expect Maine to change its position on abortion any time soon. Maine may be a moderate “purple” state, but it is decidedly pro-choice, they say.

“They may not get everything they want, but I don’t see any potential backlash against legislators pushing for great access to family planning and abortion services,” said Dan Shea, chair of Colby College’s government department.

“On the other hand, I can certainly imagine heavy consequences for those pushing hard against current laws,” he said. “Staunchly anti-abortion candidates will face pretty serious headwinds on Election Day. If you don’t believe me, ask Paul LePage.”

LePage acknowledged the role that abortion played in his bruising loss to Mills, who had battled with him during his time in the Blaine House when she served as attorney general, during a podcast interview last month. He advised the Republican Party to abandon abortion as a losing issue.

Mills’ abortion bill is the one measure that “might cut the other way,” said Mark Brewer, the interim chair of the University of Maine political science department. But Democrats “should be fine here as well” if they provide real examples of how or when this might be used.

Rob Glover, an associate professor of political science at UMaine, thinks there are more Democrats out there like Page who have made an uneasy peace with abortion access, or who remain outright opposed, but they are becoming rarer and rarer. The term unicorn could be applied, he said.

Glover thinks the U.S. Supreme Court decision mobilized the Democratic base, particularly young voters, to turn out in the midterm elections, which helped explain Democrats’ strength here in Maine. That turnout wouldn’t have happened without the Dobbs ruling, he said.

Glover thinks the state and national Republican Party have fallen out of step with public opinion on abortion.

“I think you have a solid majority of folks in Maine that at least want to maintain the status quo, and probably a very energized group of Democratic supporters who would favor the sorts of proposals the Democrats are putting forward this session,” Glover said.

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