Advocates gathered in the Hall of Flags at the State House on Monday to support a proposal to add the right to abortion to the Maine Constitution. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — Supporters and opponents of a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights in Maine filled the halls and testified during a six-hour public hearing at the State House on Monday.

Democratic leaders, including Gov. Janet Mills, urged approval of the proposed amendment. But some Republican lawmakers said they will oppose the measure, signaling a difficult path for supporters.

A two-thirds majority is needed in both the House and Senate, which means at least some Republicans would need to support the proposal in order for it to be sent to voters for final approval.

The proposal, L.D. 780, calls for a constitutional amendment “to protect reproductive autonomy.”

Dozens of people testified during a Judiciary Committee hearing that coincided with what would have been the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that guaranteed federal protections for abortion until June 2022.

That’s when a ruling by the Supreme Court struck down the right to an abortion at the federal level, leading some states to ban or restrict access, and other states, including Maine, to protect or expand abortion rights. Maine’s laws regulating abortion can be changed by a future Legislature, while a constitutional amendment could be changed only by Maine voters.


“The ability to determine our reproductive health is a fundamental human right and deserves the same level of protection as our other constitutionally protected rights,” Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, the bill’s sponsor, said during a morning news conference.

After hearing six hours of testimony, two Republicans on the committee said that they do not plan to support the proposal.

“There are people who might have different opinions and we can’t really speak for all Republicans, but for me, there is no way I would support this,” said Rep. David Haggan, R-Hampden. “It makes it undoable. … This is something that can’t be undone, and I can’t support that.”


Vitelli was joined by Democratic leaders, including Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, who also spoke in support of the bill.

“Your rights, our rights as Mainers, shouldn’t be dependent on the election coming before you or subject to political whims,” Jackson said. “Your rights, our rights as Mainers, are too important to let that happen.”


“Maine voters deserve the opportunity to weigh in and affirm that Maine’s Constitution protects reproductive rights,” Talbot Ross said. “These basic, fundamental rights should not be up for discussion, and they should not be up for debate every election year. This amendment would ensure that the rights Mainers have today will be protected in the future.”

Mills submitted written testimony to the committee in advance of its public hearing, expressing “strong support” for L.D. 780.

“No matter how strong our laws may be, they are subject to ever-changing political tides and can be repealed,” she said. “That is why, without any such federal protection, it is critical that Maine people be assured that reproductive autonomy be protected to the greatest extent possible in the state – through an amendment to the Constitution of the state of Maine.”


Both opponents and supporters filled the halls at the State House, although not in the same numbers as last year when thousands filled the Capitol for a hearing on abortion rights. Supporters held signs that said, “Abortion is health care,” and “Reproductive freedom now and always.”

Opponents, though smaller in numbers, carried their own signs. Kristina Parker, of Sidney, said she wanted lawmakers to know that abortion is wrong and “we don’t need a right to kill our children, which is what L.D. 780 is about.”


“We’re being told we need abortion to be successful and that it’s our women’s rights, but I think something that should be encouraged is helping out mothers,” the 18-year-old said. “We can give them resources. There are pregnancy centers so that they can let their child live.”

During the hearing, advocates, health care providers and women who had personal experiences with abortion testified. Some women cried as they recounted difficult pregnancies and their decisions to have abortions.

“As a person with a uterus, I do not think that my choices or what happens to me and my body should be decided by anyone but myself and medical providers,” said Stephanie Flash, of Portland.

Kristina Parker of Sidney speaks against a proposed constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to an abortion, during a Public hearing at the State House on Monday. Parker said abortion is wrong and “we don’t need a right to kill our children, which is what L.D. 780 is about.”Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Scott Hanson, president-elect of the Maine Medical Association, testified that the association supports preserving access to “the complete spectrum of reproductive health care.”

“We believe the people of Maine should enshrine that access as a constitutional amendment,” Hanson said. He said patients should have the right to know that their reproductive health care, including abortion and contraception, as well as preventive care and screenings, is not constantly in jeopardy.

Opponents of the proposal said abortion does not constitute health care and violates the rights of the unborn. “If L.D. 780 passes, the Maine Legislature will have chosen to make a mistake that promotes a culture of death,” said Lori Cloutier, president of the board of Maine Right to Life.



At least some Republicans will need to support the proposal in order for it to pass and go to voters. In the 151-member House, where Democrats hold 81 seats, the bill would need 101 votes to reach the two-thirds threshold. In the 35-member Senate, where Democrats hold 22 seats, the bill would need 24 votes.

But the vice-chair of the Maine Republican Party testified Monday urging lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to reject L.D. 780.

“The Maine people do not support late-term abortion and it is your job to represent them,” Samuel Bridges told the committee. “Today, I am here on behalf of the Maine GOP and as a proud Maine citizen in an effort to encourage both Democrats and Republicans to vote in a bipartisan manner … in opposition to L.D. 780.”

Rep. Rachel Henderson, R-Rumford, is a member of the committee and said after the hearing that she does not plan to support the bill.

“There’s a value to things being undone in the Legislature,” Henderson said. “There’s a reason there are elections every two years, so that people have the ability to make changes.”

Some lawmakers questioned whether there is any harm in simply sending the proposal to voters to let them decide. But Henderson said lawmakers are a key part of the process and would be using their own judgment if they choose not to send it to voters.

“This process was put in place where it has to go through the Legislature first,” Henderson said. “If it passes and two-thirds say we think this is a good idea, we want the people’s voice on it, that’s what this process is for constitutional amendments. But we’re not undermining the people’s voice by saying this is a bad idea, it shouldn’t go out, we’re simply following the process.”

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