When a flyer produced by the Maine Attorney General’s Office on the state’s abortion laws became politically problematic for Gov. Janet Mills’ push for a late-term abortion bill, the governor’s staff coordinated with top AGO employees to have the guidance deleted from their website, according to internal emails obtained by the Maine Wire.
The emails also revealed that AGO employees worked with a Planned Parenthood executive to craft the public guidance on the state’s abortion laws to make sure it wouldn’t deter minors from having abortions after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.
After Assistant House Minority Leader Amy Arata (R-New Gloucester) called attention to the AGO’s shifting guidance on Maine’s abortion laws on the House floor in June, the Maine Wire submitted a Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) request to the AGO to uncover the process by which the office’s flyer had been revised.
The emails reveal that Attorney General Aaron Frey and Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher Taub were directly involved in crafting the original guidance, which stated that abortions in cases of “fatal fetal abnormalities” were legal in Maine.
The flyer, entitled “Know Your Rights: Abortion in Maine,” was first published and made public by the AGO in July 2022.
The first iteration of the flyer contained a sentence stating that “Maine law also provides exceptions to the viability restriction to save the life or health of the pregnant person or in the case of a fatal fetal diagnosis [italics added].”
A copy of the original July 2022 flyer can be seen below:
That language was problematic for Gov. Mills because her entire push for LD 1619, Maine’s new late-term abortion law, was marketed around legalizing abortions in rare cases when a fatal fetal abnormality is discovered late in a pregnancy.
Mills used the heart-wrenching story of a Maine resident, Dana Pierce, who said in a newspaper op-ed that she had to pay $40,000 and travel to Colorado in order to have an abortion on a 32-week-old fetus with a fatal diagnosis of skeletal dysplasia.
The AGO’s July 2022 flyer remained on their official website until May of 2023 — but the process behind the documents creation and panicked revision has been a mystery — until now.
“The information obtained by The Maine Wire proves that the AG’s office was intimately involved in the development and approval of the document, so it wasn’t a mere “mistake”,” said Assistant Minority Leader Arata.
“It proves that LD 1619, which made abortions of healthy premature babies legal in Maine, had nothing to do with the woman who went to Colorado for an abortion, but was a strategy to open up a new market for lucrative third trimester abortions by Planned Parenthood,” Arata said.
“The fact that the CEO of Planned Parenthood was consulted by the AG’s office illustrates how much control they have of Maine’s government, and should outrage every Maine citizen regardless of their stance on abortion,” she said.
In the 2022 election cycle, Planned Parenthood’s political committees spent almost $1 million boosting pro-abortion Democrats and attacking pro-life Republicans.
The full story of the Attorney General’s Office Flyer “Error”
The 173 pages of documents produced by the AGO in response to the Maine Wire’s public records request contain significant gaps in correspondence, though the AGO’s office said no records were withheld for any reason.
The records do not show who wrote the “fatal fetal diagnosis” language that was later edited out. Nor do they show the legal rationale behind it.
Republican lawmakers said during the debate over LD 1619 that Maine law allowed for abortions in cases of a fatal fetal diagnosis because the pre-born baby would no longer be viable.
That’s an interpretation that the AGO apparently agreed with until reporters, prompted by Republican comments, started asking questions.
On April 13, 2023, Maine Public State House correspondent Kevin Miller sent an email to Dana Hayes, the AGO’s Special Assistant for Public Affairs, asking if the section of their flyer regarding fatal fetal abnormalities was incorrect — due to Republican lawmakers pointing to the flyer in support of their contention that LD 1619 was unnecessary.
CC’d on the email exchange was Gov. Mills’ Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications and Strategy Scott Ogden and Press Secretary Ben Goodman.
Mills’ staffer Ogden then asked Hayes to direct Miller’s question to the AGO to address the flyer’s statement on fetal anomalies.
After receiving Ogden’s email, Chief Deputy Attorney General Chris Taub sent an email to Assistant Attorney General Halliday Moncure, asking if she knew “where the sentence as issue comes from.”
There was no response to this email.
Hayes told Miller the next day that “that section of the flyer is an error and not reflective of current Maine law.”
Before responding to Miller, however, Hayes had emailed AGO staffer Laurie Simpson late in the day on April 13 to tell her to remove the “Know Your Rights” flyer from the AGO’s website.
After taking down the flyer on April 14, Simpson said “It’s off the website. Some day you can tell me what happened!”
After the AGO received continued pressure from the media to address the issue, Simpson worked to have the flyer itself “permanently removed,” not just to have the link to it on their website taken down.
Below is a May 3 email from political editor Michael Shepherd of the Bangor Daily News to Danna Hayes asking about the flyer:
Hayes told Shepherd that “It was an error,” and that “It was supposed to have been taken down when it was brought to our attention several weeks ago.”
Hayes then asked Laurie Simpson if it was possible that the flyer had not yet been taken down, to which Simpson responded that she had taken down the link to the flyer, but had not yet had it permanently deleted.
In another May 3 email, Hayes told News Center Maine reporter Don Carrigan that the original flyer was “inaccurate in regards to fatal fetal abnormalities post-viability. Our statute makes no mention of fetal anomaly.”
The next day, Hayes sent Simpson an updated version of the flyer to put on the website, because in her words she was “getting a lot of heat from the press for not replacing it.”
In a May 8 email to WMTW reporter Phil Hirschkorn who also inquired about the original flyer, Hayes said that the AGO “realized that the document contained an error and removed it from the website.”
“We updated and reposted the document not only to ensure that our Office’s website contains the most accurate information, but also to help facilitated [sic] a better understanding of a nuanced legal issue,” she wrote.
The emails show that the AGO’s interpretation of Maine’s abortion law, which remained publicly available for almost a year, was quickly changed in order to accomodate Gov. Mills’ political needs.
Neither Hayes nor Ogden responded to questions emailed to them.
How was the July 2022 abortion rights flyer crafted?
On July 6, 2022, Danna Hayes emailed AGO staff to inform them that they had a working draft ready on the “Know Your Rights” abortion flyer.
Hayes said that she had worked to develop the flyer with Nicole Clegg, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
Assistant AG Halliday Moncure then asked Hayes if the section of the flyer regarding the ability of minors to obtain an abortion adequately reflected Maine statutes which provide that minors may obtain an abortion without the involvement of an adult in certain circumstances.
The section of the flyer in question and Moncure’s email can be seen below:
Hayes responded to Moncure by saying that reason the flyer was worded in that way was “largely political.”
“Maine’s adult involvement law has been under attack for many years and even people who call themselves pro-choice don’t always believe minors should have access without parental consent,” Hayes wrote.
“The way we communicate about the requirement provides assurances to these folks, but is also clear the way that practically most minors will be going about getting abortion care,” she added.
Chief Deputy AG Chris Taub then followed up on Hayes’ response to ask if there was a risk that the way they worded the flyer would deter minors from seeking out an abortion.
Hayes then revised typos in the flyer and the section on minors to the final July 2022 version and sent an updated copy to Taub for approval.
Rep. Laurel Libby (R-Auburn) said in response to these revelations that they show the politicization of the AGO and government corruption.
“Maine’s Attorney General should not be interpreting the law based on political expediency in order to benefit the Democrats and further their liberal agenda,” Rep. Libby said.
“This is a symptom of the depth of corruption in our government, and it will get worse until we remove these people from their positions of power,” she said.
After a bitter fight in the Legislature, Mills signed LD 1619 into law on July 19.
She never commented publicly on the AGO’s shifting public guidance.
Here is the original abortion guidance document. It’s no longer available on the state’s website, but Libby’s organization, Speak up for Life, preserved a copy before the AGO deleted it.
Here is the AGO’s full response to the Maine Wire’s FOAA request: