Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli speaks during a public hearing at the State House on a proposed constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to an abortion on Jan. 22 Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald

A legislative committee last week advanced a Midcoast senator’s bill that would enshrine the right to an abortion in the state constitution, though the proposal faces an uphill climb.

The Judiciary Committee on Feb. 1 approved the bill proposed by Democratic Sen. Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic in a party-line vote, with six Democrats in favor and five Republicans opposed. The tally signaled problems for the bill’s future, as it requires two-thirds supermajorities in the House and Senate before it can be sent to voters for a referendum. Democrats control both chambers but don’t have two-thirds majorities, and many Republicans have voiced opposition to the bill.

Democratic leaders across the country have led efforts to guarantee the right to an abortion at the state level following the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that protected abortion rights through the U.S. Constitution. California, Vermont, Ohio and Michigan in recent months have added abortion rights to their respective constitutions and more than a dozen other states are considering doing so.

“As someone who remembers a time before Roe v. Wade, I know how vital access to safe reproductive health care is,” Vitelli said in a statement. “Over 50 years after that ruling, the fight over one’s right to choose one’s own destiny continues. The best way to get politics out of abortion, and abortion out of politics, is to make sure our state constitution is clear: Reproductive autonomy is a human right. Maine voters deserve the right to weigh in on this issue, to ensure their medical privacy and autonomy is protected.”

Republican Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn opposes Vitelli’s bill, saying it violates the rights of the unborn.

“If I were confident this was an amendment about birth control and individuals making choices for themselves, with no other third party impacted, I would be confident supporting this,” Brakey told the Portland Press Herald. “But this is also about when there are two human beings involved in the question. … I think the legal questions there get a lot more complicated when we’re talking about the rights of two human beings.”


Religious groups also oppose the bill.

“Regardless of what stage of development, the unborn baby is human,” Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said in testimony to the Judiciary Committee. “Being human, that baby is worthy of protection — legally, due to our constitutional protections of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; morally, because every human being is an image bearer of God and has intrinsic values.”

Groups like the Maine Public Health Association support the bill.

“Longstanding systems of health and economic inequity — including access to reproductive health care and the autonomy to make reproductive healthcare decisions — cause continued and documented disparities in educational achievement, financial security and social status,” Rebecca Boulos, the group’s executive director, testified. “A constitutional amendment to protect personal reproductive autonomy would contribute to the well-being of the people of Maine.”

Maine lawmakers last year passed a series of pro-abortion laws, including ones that allow abortions later in pregnancy and waive insurance copays and deductibles.

Vitelli’s bill now heads to the Senate, where Democrats hold 22 of 35 seats. In the House, Democrats hold 80 of 151 seats. Assuming all lawmakers vote, the bill would need 24 votes in the Senate and 101 in the House to pass.

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