Many Mainers turned out to the State House Monday to make their voices heard at the Judiciary Committee’s public hearing on a resolution proposing an amendment to Maine’s State Constitution that would enshrine a right to abortion in the state.
The Committee’s hearing for the bill coincided with the 51st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, a key opinion for the constitutional protection of abortion that was overturned in 2022 with the Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which returned the issue of abortion regulation to the states.
The bill proposing the amendment to Maine’s constitution — LD 780, sponsored by Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc) — was introduced during the 131st Legislature’s first session and carried over into this year, the session that typically deals with emergency measures.
If approved, this amendment would declare that “every person has a right to reproductive autonomy” that may not be “den[ied] or infringe[d]” upon by the “State nor any political subdivision of the State.”
The full amendment reads:
Every person has a right to reproductive autonomy. Neither the State nor any political subdivision of the State may not deny or infringe a person’s right to reproductive autonomy unless the denial or infringement is justified by a compelling state interest and is accomplished using the least restrictive means necessary. Nothing in this section narrows or limits a person’s right to privacy or equal protection.
For purposes of this section, the State’s or political subdivision’s interest in denying or infringing a person’s right to reproductive autonomy is “compelling” only if it is for the limited purpose of protecting the health of the individual seeking care, is consistent with accepted clinical standards of practice and evidence-based medicine and does not infringe on that person’s autonomous decision-making.
Before the hearing commenced at 10am Monday morning, supporters of the amendment held a rally in the Hall of Flags at which Sen. Vitelli, LD 780 co-sponsor Rep. Sophia B. Warren (D-Scarborough), Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Allagash), and Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) all offered remarks in favor of the legislation.
Also in attendance at the rally were a number of people opposed to the bill, holding signs with messages such as “if abortion is not wrong, then nothing is wrong” and “murder isn’t healthcare.”
Abortion advocates, on the other hand, brought signs reading “abortion is health care” and “abortion access for all.”
Behind the podium from which lawmakers addressed the press this morning was a crowd primarily comprised of those in favor of LD 780, but a handful of pro-life individuals in attendance made their presence known in the group as well, their signs co-mingling among those of the bill’s supporters.
In this group, pro-life signs carried messages such as “for the love of Maine, vote for life” and “Planned Parenthood scars women,” while abortion advocates held signs reading “abortion rights are human rights” and “defend reproductive justice.”
Kristina Parker, Vice President of a Turning Point USA Activism Hub, told the Maine Wire that she and other pro-life advocates were there Monday to say that “abortion is wrong.”
“The majority of Mainers do not want extreme late-term abortion,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re here: to testify against the proposal for an amendment to the constitution that would give a right to personal reproductive autonomy, A.K.A. abortion.”
“We already have late term abortion,” Parker continued. “We don’t need it as a right because you don’t have the right to murder anybody.”
A woman supporting LD 780 told the Maine Wire that she “wouldn’t miss” being at the State House Monday morning for the hearing.
“This is such an important chance for the people of Maine to really make their feelings and beliefs felt,” she said.
She explained that in her past, she needed two abortions, and she has “absolutely no regrets,” explaining that it was “the right choice at the right time.”
“It remains such an important freedom for women,” she concluded.
Kate Parker-Harding, another pro-life advocate in attendance Monday morning, told the Maine Wire that she was there to oppose LD 780 because “every person born and unborn has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
“No courtroom and no woman — no matter their circumstance — can decide who gets to live or die,” Parker-Harding said.
Elayne Richard and Lucy Hull told the Maine Wire that were at the State House Monday to advocate for LD 780 so that “all Mainers [will] be able to vote on the right to reproductive autonomy, especially abortion care,” which they described as a “basic health care right.”
“[It’s] very important that the voters have a chance to decide what should happen to our reproductive rights in the future no matter who is in the legislature,” Hull said.
“The idea that we have to continue to protest and testify for a bill like this after all these years is just very frustrating,” Hull said, “because it seems to obvious to me the need for reproductive autonomy, the need to make one’s own decisions about one’s own body, one’s own family, about one’s own health care.”
“I believe completely that people need to have the right to have children, the right to not have children, and the right to raise those children in safe and sustainable communities, which is one of the tenants of reproductive justice,” Hull said.
“The big, important part is that right now we have really good access and rights in Maine for abortion care,” said Richard, “[but] things can change at the whim of how elections turn out.”
“We need to have this codified so that every session we do not have to come back to keep fighting for those rights that are really human, basic health care rights,” Richard said.
“We’ve been fighting for this for a very long time and its about time that we put an end to having to fight for that,” Richard said. “There are many other things that need our attention, our voices, and this needs to be settled so that we can get on with the other work that needs to be done.”
Elizabeth Jordan, a pro-life woman, told the Maine Wire that although she was not going to be testifying before the Committee, she was at the State House to show support for those speaking in opposition to LD 780.
“I wanted to be here anyway just to support the life side of this issue, the pro-life side. I’m very much a pro-life person and have been for many years since I became a Christian,” Jordan said. “I was here back in May for the big showing that we had and I’m here today just to support.”
“I’m on the side of life, so that’s why I showed up today, just to be support for others who want to testify,” Jordan continued.
“I don’t believe Maine should enshrine abortion. I believe its an evil in our day, and that’s why I’m here. I believe we can do better,” Jordan said. “Life is always the best decision, and death is never the answer.”
In addition to those who appeared Monday to offer testimony in person, there were also a number of those who opted to present their testimony virtually or submit it strictly in written form.
According to the State Legislature’s dashboard for the bill, 249 pieces of written testimony have been submitted with relation to LD 780.
“Right now, while we have good laws in place in Maine, the protections guaranteed by those laws can be taken away by us politicians in Augusta,” Sen. Vitelli said in her testimony to the Judiciary Committee.
“As written, our state constitution offers some protection for reproductive rights,” Vitelli testified. “This amendment would make it explicit that our reproductive rights are protected by the state constitution.”
If lawmakers ultimately pass LD 780, Maine voters will be asked this November to weigh in on whether or not they wish to amend the state’s constitution to enshrine a right to access abortion.
Unlike most legislation, LD 780 — as a proposed constitutional amendment — would require two-thirds approval in both chambers for passage, as opposed to the usual simple majority.