Opinion

Abortion fight could spark national political firestorm

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No one can say for certain whether the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is willing to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed the right of women to receive an abortion.

But Republicans in Alabama and Georgia and liberals on the court itself seem to think it’s a real possibility.

For folks who followed the contentious confirmation hearing of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year, none of this will come as a surprise. Abortion rights advocates warned repeatedly that a resurgent conservative majority could spell the end for federal abortion protections.

They were clear: Kavanaugh couldn’t be counted on to protect the precedent set by Roe.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins staked her legacy and her pro-choice credentials on Kavanaugh’s commitment to precedent, despite the strong support he received from anti-abortion forces and the rhetoric of the president who nominated him.

Alabama and Georgia lawmakers are now laying the groundwork to give Kavanaugh and his cohorts a chance to be heroes to the radical right wing.

Georgia passed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, outlawing the procedure after about six weeks into a pregnancy. Three other conservative-controlled states have passed similar so-called heartbeat bills.

Alabama, not to be outdone, is finalizing an even more extreme all-out abortion ban.

Neither the Georgia nor Alabama laws are in effect today, and neither would likely pass constitutional scrutiny under Roe. But the intent is clear: To get abortion cases to the Supreme Court, where backers are confident that they will prevail.

Into this heated environment, members of the liberal block of the Supreme Court issued their own warnings about the future of Roe as part of the dissent in an unrelated — and otherwise likely little noticed — case concerning the jurisdiction of state courts in litigation and state sovereignty.

On Monday, the conservatives on the court overturned a 40-year-old precedent, Nevada v. Hall, in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissent, warned that the court’s majority might be setting the stage to overturn other precedent-setting cases.

“Today’s decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the court will overrule next,” Breyer wrote, also going so far as to cite another abortion case — Planned Parenthood v. Casey — in which the court upheld abortion rights.

While states controlled by Republicans continue their determined effort to roll back constitutional abortion rights, Maine and other states are doing their part to guarantee access to the medical procedure.

This week the Maine Legislature passed a bill that requires private insurance companies to cover abortion services and ends the ban on coverage through the state-funded portion of Medicaid.

While the bill faces further action in Legislature, its passage seems assured, and Gov. Janet Mills, a strong supporter of abortion rights, has indicated her support.

More than 45 years after Roe v. Wade was decided, abortion remains a flashpoint in our society. A strong majority of voters support abortion rights, but the risk of those rights being taken away has seemed distant or unrealistic, particularly for younger people who weren’t alive pre-Roe.

The slow, seemingly unstoppable drip of rollbacks in states across the country continued unabated as opponents of abortion rights played the long game, limiting one step at a time a woman’s ability to make her own reproductive choices and choices about her body.

The drip is now a torrent, and abortion politics clouds other issues of gender equity.

In fact, Republicans in Maine are on the cusp of blocking a state-level equal rights amendment — which would enshrine in the foundational document of state government that women are equal under the law — because they are afraid that it will somehow guarantee access to abortion services for poor women.

Republicans have made it clear where they stand — and it’s not with women. Every step along the way to the Supreme Court, every vote or move to block progress only makes it more clear.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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