A fiery and energized crowd called for continued access to abortion during a rally Saturday in Portland’s Congress Square Park, responding to a recent Texas law that all but bans abortion in that state.

Republicans in other states say they’re preparing to follow Texas’ lead in prohibiting abortions after six weeks, before most women know they’re pregnant, a trend that Saturday’s demonstrators saw as a direct attack on Roe v. Wade, the precedent establishing a constitutional right to an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court, with a new conservative majority, so far has declined to strike down the Texas statute, S.B. 8, which was designed to avoid judicial review by deputizing citizens – not state government – to sue abortion providers.

Portland’s rally was one of hundreds held around the nation on Saturday. The event drew a crowd of well over two hundred, who enthusiastically cheered speakers from Planned Parenthood of New England, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Maine Legislature.

State Sen. Cathy Breen echoed the frustration of many women recognizing that, after decades of fighting to defend access to abortions, they must now prepare for an even higher-stakes struggle.

“You know, I am sick and goddamn tired of talking about abortion rights,” said Breen, a Democrat from Falmouth.

But, she added, “What’s happening in Texas, Mississippi, and other deep-red states can absolutely happen in Maine.”

Each year, Breen and her Democratic colleagues in the Legislature see similar bills pass through that would limit abortion access. With majorities in both chambers, Democrats can vote them down. In recent sessions, they’ve expanded access to abortion, contraceptives and insurance to fund them through legislation at the state level.

Looking beyond Maine, Breen said, the passage of federal legislation protecting the right to an abortion is critical. She urged the crowd to push U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to support the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021, which would codify the right to an abortion in federal law, shoring up the precedent set in Roe v. Wade.

Breen also called on attendees to support pro-choice candidates all over the state – and not just in comparatively liberal Cumberland County – in order to protect abortion.

“We must continue to elect champions of these issues to the Senate, the State House, and the Blaine House,” she said to cheers from the crowd.

The current occupant of the Blaine House, Gov. Janet Mills, sent a letter that an organizer read aloud at the demonstration.

“Please know that I stand in solidarity with you and that I will continue to stand alongside you to fight for the rights of women, in Maine and across the nation,” the letter said, in part.

Mills said later in the letter, “You can be damn sure that as governor I will stand strong to protect the rights of women.”

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, also sent a letter in which she praised the crowd for “standing up and shouting out because … you have seen the writing on the wall” – that Texas has, she said, “put a bounty on women seeking an abortion,” and the Supreme Court has, so far, let it happen.

The Texas law authorizes citizens to sue abortion providers, as well as anyone who assisted with an abortion in any way, including by driving a patient to a clinic. Those bringing suit can win $10,000 per claim against a person proved to have assisted with an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

Deputizing citizens, and not the government, to enforce the law triggers a procedural quirk that makes it difficult for courts to strike down the Texas statute, as the Supreme Court said in an emergency decision last month. Critics have argued, however, that the conservative-majority court is only too happy to claim powerlessness in the case, and is in practice abandoning the precedent established in Roe.

Organizers on Saturday asked attendees to contact their representatives in Congress to support the Women’s Health Protection Act, specifically naming Collins, a Republican who has said she won’t support the bill.

The act is in the Senate’s hands after passing the House last month in response to the Texas law. Key senators such as Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Collins have said they are likely “no” votes, making passage difficult.

Collins has said she won’t support the bill because it goes “way beyond” simply protecting the right to an abortion. Collins said she found language in the bill “extreme,” and was concerned about potential limits to “religious freedom” that were enshrined in a recent federal law allowing medical professionals to opt out of administering abortions if they object to them.

She is working on a narrower bill, she says, that would codify Roe without other prohibitions designed to stop laws that chip away at abortion by imposing requirements on providers that critics say are medically unnecessary.

Pingree is a co-sponsor of the House-passed bill, and U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent, co-sponsored the Senate’s identical version.

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