NATIONAL NEWS

Maine Democrats who expanded abortion access now want to amend the state constitution

Jan 22, 2024, 10:13 AM

Democratic Maine Sen. Eloise Vitelli, sponsor of a proposal to amend the Maine Constitution to ensh...

Democratic Maine Sen. Eloise Vitelli, sponsor of a proposal to amend the Maine Constitution to enshrine the right to an abortion, addresses supporters in the Hall of Flags at the Maine State House on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Augusta, Maine. (AP Photo/David Sharp)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/David Sharp)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov. Janet Mills and other leading Democrats are pressing to end future legislative debate over abortions by amending the state constitution to enshrine the right to reproductive health care, just seven months after expanding access to abortions.

Maine is seeking to join four other states that have amended their constitutions to protect the right to abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

But the proposal faces another tough, passionate battle after a closer-than-expected outcome last year in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, which voted along party lines to give Maine one of the nation’s least restrictive abortion laws.

Amendment supporters say Mainers should have the final say, but it would take a two-thirds vote in each chamber to advance the amendment to a statewide vote at a time when many Republicans are still angry over last year’s loss.

“There’s no way it’s going to pass,” said Republican Sen. Lisa Keim, of Dixfield. “They shouldn’t be putting this political theater on stage again.”

On Monday, the 51st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, the governor lent her support to amending the Maine Constitution, saying the state must act to ensure the right to reproductive health care, regardless of which party is in control.

“No matter how strong our laws may be, they are subject to everchanging political tides and can be repealed. 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,” she wrote in testimony to the Judiciary Committee.

Maine is one of more than a dozen other states that are considering ballot measures dealing with abortion for this year or in 2026. Most, in places including Arizona and Florida, would seek to ensure access, though in varying degrees. In Colorado, there are dueling efforts to get restrictions and access on the ballot.

Abortion questions have appeared on statewide ballots seven times since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended a nationwide right to abortion in 2022. In each case, the side backed by abortion-right advocates prevailed — even in conservative states such as Kansas and Kentucky and swing states such as Michigan and Ohio.

Measures to enshrine the right to abortion are already on the ballots for November 2024 in Maryland and New York. Like Maine’s proposal, they don’t use the word “abortion,” but rather refer to “reproductive autonomy” or “reproductive freedom.”

On Monday, the sponsor of the proposal in Maine, Sen. Eloise Vitelli, of Arrowsic, warned that Maine isn’t immune to efforts to restrict abortions, noting there have been more than two dozen proposals in recent years in the Legislature,

“As we are seeing so clearly in state after state across this nation, laws can and do change,” Vitelli told supporters of her proposal Monday.

That’s why it’s important, supporters said, for Maine to join California, Vermont, Ohio and Michigan, states that have made reproductive freedom explicit in the state constitutions after the U.S. Supreme Court action.

About 100 people supporting the proposal rallied in the State House, along with House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, Senate President Troy Jackson and others, but the tone was different from last year, when larger, boisterous crowds gathered in the halls.

Lisa Kushner, of Belfast, described her harrowing experience of entering a darkened building from an alley entrance to get an abortion in 1966, and she said lawmakers and the people of Maine should take additional steps to ensure that never happens again.

“Personal reproductive decisions have no place in state legislatures. Our elected representatives should never be orchestrating constituents’ reproductive lives,” she said. “Mainers deserve a right to vote and settle this issue,” she added.

The amendment follows a new law that allows abortions at any time if deemed medically necessary by a doctor. Maine’s previous law, adopted in 1993, made abortions legal until a fetus becomes viable outside the womb, at roughly 24 weeks.

The emotional debate included a public hearing that lasted 19 hours, driven mostly by a massive turnout by voters opposed to the proposal.

The bill was narrowly approved in the Maine House, passing 74-72, after the chamber took an hourslong break and the vote was held open for about 45 minutes.

Enraged Republicans accused Democrats of political shenanigans, but there were only a handful of abortion opponents present Monday. Keim said she didn’t encourage those opposed to the amendment to come to the State House in a show of force, calling it a waste of their time, given the significant hurdles to passage.

Several teenagers were among those who quietly held signs in opposition to the amendment.

Kristina Parker, an 18-year-old activist, said many Mainers share her view that abortion is wrong. “This is a constitutional amendment proposal to make personal reproductive autonomy a right, except I don’t think anyone has a right to kill anybody,” she said.

___

Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

National News

"Teddy," a 7-year-old chow mix, dons a doggie cap at a park, Monday, July 15, 2024, in Phoenix. As ...

Associated Press

Booties. Indoor dog parks. And following the vet’s orders. How to keep pets cool this summer

PHOENIX (AP) — As much of the world swelters, it’s not just people who need help with the dog days of summer. Pet owners have to consider how to both shield and cool down furry family members as intense — at times deadly — heat waves become more common. “It’s really important to remember that […]

16 minutes ago

Associated Press

NYC bus crashes into Burger King after driver apparently suffers a medical episode

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City bus driver apparently suffered a medical episode early Thursday and crashed his bus into a closed Burger King restaurant, police said. The driver crashed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus into the fast food restaurant in Brooklyn just after midnight, police said. He was taken to a hospital […]

33 minutes ago

Associated Press

2024 Election Latest: Biden and Harris set to meet Netanyahu following his fiery Congress address

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to make a long-awaited White House visit to meet with President Joe Biden and likely Democratic nominee Vice President Kamala Harris at an important moment for all three politicians. On Wednesday, President Biden made his first address since his decision to drop out of the 2024 presidential race. […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 lands at Manchester Boston Regional Airport, June 2, 2023, in ...

Associated Press

Southwest breaks 50-year tradition, plans to start assigning seats

Southwest Airlines is doing away with its 50-year tradition and plans to start assigning seats, as well as premium seating for customers who are seeking more legroom. The airline said Thursday that it has been studying customer preferences and expectations and is making the changes because of what they’ve heard, but it could also generate […]

2 hours ago

Holding signs with photos of Israeli hostages and demanding their release, people react as they wat...

Associated Press

Israel-Hamas war latest: Cease-fire talks face delays after Netanyahu’s fiery speech to Congress

Officials from Egypt, Israel, the United States and Qatar were expected to meet Thursday in Doha with the aim of resuming talks for a proposed three-phase cease-fire to end the war between Israel and Hamas and free the remaining hostages. But an Israeli official said Israel’s negotiating team was delayed and would likely be dispatched […]

3 hours ago

FILE - A woman fills out a pledge card for the U.S. Census in exchange for a reusable boba tea cart...

Associated Press

Noncitizens are less likely to participate in a census with citizenship question, study says

Adding a citizenship question to the census reduces the participation of people who aren’t U.S. citizens, particularly those from Latin American countries, according to a new research paper that comes as Republicans in Congress are pushing to add such a question to the census form. Noncitizens who pay taxes but are ineligible to have a […]

7 hours ago

Maine Democrats who expanded abortion access now want to amend the state constitution