What will be the impact on access to abortion in Maine be if Neil Gorsuch is confirmed by the U.S. Senate to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court? The answer is that there will likely be very little change at all.

Gorsuch, a strict conservative from the Tenth Circuit Court, will simply re-establish what has been for the past two decades or so a conservative leaning Court. Roe v Wade, the landmark decision that established the constitutional right to abortion, will remain intact, for the time being.

However, Roe’s survival as a constitutional bulwark against a vocal minority who want to control the reproductive lives of women may succumb to actuarial reality in the not-too-distant future. Two of the Court’s four liberal justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer — are 83 and 78, respectively. And Anthony Kennedy, the sometimes swing vote either way on matters of reproductive liberty, is 80.

The chances are that, at some point in the next four years, President Donald Trump will have the opportunity to nominate a successor to any one of these three aging justices, and it will be at that point that Roe v. Wade, the law of the land for the last 44 years, is at grave risk.

According to a study conducted by the Center for Reproductive Rights, if Roe is overturned, more than 37 million women in 33 states would be at risk for living in an area where they would have no access to abortion services.

How might Maine women be affected if Roe were to be overturned?


I recently met with two physicians, both of whom have dedicated their entire medical careers to serving the reproductive and general health needs of rural Maine women. One asked what they should do — as physicians — if Roe were overturned. The other replied that they should begin to train emergency room doctors in how to treat women who present in the ER as a result of a botched abortion. She was not joking.

Fortunately, Maine is one of 17 states where the principles and tenets of Roe v. Wade are codified either in the state’s Constitution or in the less secure form of state law. In Maine, the right to access abortion care is preserved — at least for now — in state statute. Passed by the Maine state Legislature in 1994 and signed into law by Republican Gov. John McKernan, The Reproductive Privacy Act affirms a woman’s right to end a pregnancy until viability, and beyond that when a woman’s life or health are endangered by continuing the pregnancy.

However, state statutes are less secure than protections memorialized in state constitutions. State law can be changed or repealed in the course of a single four- to six-month legislative session. Opponents of reproductive freedom know this and are poised to clear the decks in preparation for a time when Donald Trump is able to nominate a second justice whose views on reproductive justice mirror the other side.

American women and those who serve them now wait for a flood of presidential memoranda and Congressional actions designed to deprive women of basic reproductive rights. Twenty-two years after passage of the state’s Reproductive Privacy Act, Mainers must make clear to their state legislators what’s at stake and why it is more important than ever to hold the line against what are certain to be aggressive efforts to repeal it. Otherwise, Maine women will be without the fundamental options that help give them control of their lives if we fail.

George Hill is president and CEO of Maine Family Planning, which provides the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, in 18 sites throughout the state.

George Hill

George Hill

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