Abortion-rights amendment fails to get needed supermajority vote in Maine Senate

By Billy Kobin Bangor Daily News Staff

AUGUSTA — A proposal to enshrine “reproductive autonomy” in the Maine Constitution failed to get two-thirds support in the state Senate on April 1, with all Republicans withholding the votes that will be necessary to get the item to the November ballot.

The resolution from Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, would ask voters whether they favor amending the Constitution “to declare that every person has a right to reproductive autonomy.” The Senate endorsed it 20-13 on Monday, with two Democrats absent. It faces further action in both chambers, but it is all but certain to fail in a high-profile election year.

If approved, the state could not violate a person’s reproductive rights without a compelling interest that includes protecting the person’s health and is “consistent with accepted clinical standards of practice and evidence-based medicine.”

The proposal, which has the support of Gov. Janet Mills, always faced a tall task of getting two-thirds support in both chambers. That is especially true in the House, where proponents need a few members of the minority party to back it while accounting for a few Democrats who may not support it given their past opposition to abortion-rights measures.

In the past decade, Maine lawmakers in the two major parties have become increasingly polarized on the issue. The state has some of the nation’s most permissive abortion laws.

Last year, the Democratic-led Legislature passed a controversial bill from Mills to allow doctors to perform abortions they deem necessary after viability and a proposal eliminating out-of-pocket costs for abortion care along with measures protecting Maine providers from other state laws restricting abortion and blocking municipalities from passing stricter abortion rules.

Vitelli and abortion-rights advocates, including Planned Parenthood, have noted around 20 states enacted bans or near total bans on abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 overturned its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion a federal right.

Supporters of Maine’s proposed amendment also noted reproductive rights cover various procedures and treatments facing legal challenges from anti-abortion groups and conservatives, such as in vitro fertilization and the abortion pill mifepristone. Abortion-rights advocates have won in numerous states — ranging from Kansas to California — that voted on similar reproductive rights amendments or bills since 2022.

Maine could follow Vermont’s lead in New England in approving a similar reproductive rights amendment, and several other states have ballot measures this year seeking to codify abortion rights.

“The ability to determine our reproductive health is a fundamental human right,” Vitelli said Monday.

Meanwhile, Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, said “abortion is a deeply divisive issue, and embedding it in our Constitution would only serve to deepen those divisions.” 

Proponents have pointed to polling showing Mainers generally support abortion rights and that a majority opposed the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade reversal in 2022, while Republicans and the Christian Civic League of Maine have mobilized against Vitelli’s proposal.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn by mid-April after approving an addition to the two-year budget, but the session could run late as lawmakers deal with various bills.

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