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Planned Parenthood: Maine's abortion protections could be repealed with shifting political winds

Protesters Kendal Underwood (left) and Brittany Nickens gather outside Planned Parenthood Friday, June 24, 2022, in St. Louis. Most abortions are now illegal in Missouri following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended a constitutional protection for abortion.
Jeff Roberson
Protesters Kendal Underwood (left) and Brittany Nickens gather outside Planned Parenthood Friday, June 24, 2022, in St. Louis. Most abortions are now illegal in Missouri following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended a constitutional protection for abortion.

The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, delivering a major blow to abortion rights advocates. The opinion by a majority of justices now leaves the question of whether women have the right to an abortion, and under what circumstances, up to individual states.

Maine has its own protections, but Nicole Clegg of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England says they are fragile and could easily change with a shift in the political landscape. Clegg told Maine Public’s Patty Wight that the decision opens the door for changes to other reproductive rights and freedoms in the future.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Clegg: I'm grieving the loss of what I think are basic rights for people. I think about my niece and you know, sort of the younger generation that's going to grow up in a place where they have less rights and control over their own futures than I did when I grew up. I think that that, like, I don't think my experience is unique. I think that how I'm feeling could broadly be applied to most Americans, and most Mainers.

Wight: Maine has strong state-level protections to ensure access to abortions. So what are the implications of this decision specifically for women and pregnant people here?

A lot of this is determined by elections. And you know, right now, we do have good laws in place that ensure that access to abortion is going to be safe and legal and hasn't changed today. But that doesn't mean that it can't change in November. You know, the reality is that laws can be repealed. And we've seen that happen. And if we have a governor who's elected, who is hostile to abortion rights, and a legislature that flips in control, those things, I think, could be really at risk.

If that were to happen, if there is a change in our political landscape where a majority of lawmakers oppose abortion, what restrictions do you think Maine would most likely see initially?

I think if we look at what types of legislation have been introduced in the past, a lot of this is grounded in biased counseling, you know, forcing people to jump through additional hurdles, taking away insurance coverage. I think that those are the things that we could say, based on what's happened, we could expect those again. But, you know, also, I don't know what's possible, given the decision that came out today. And I think that when we look to the future, legislatures are going to be much more far reaching than they have been in the past. Before, it would never have been acceptable to consider turning this into a crime and prosecuting someone. But today, that's now possible -- like, there are states that are going to pursue that. Any of these things could be something that those who are opposed to legal abortion could pursue.

And if Maine's state-level protections remain in place, how much are you expecting our state to be a resource for pregnant people in other states who don't have access? Is that unlikely given our geographic location?

I don't think it's unlikely, because we've seen people travel from Texas, since Texas lost their abortion rights in September, to access care in Maine. And that's a very far distance. You know, now, when you're looking at more than half of the country potentially losing abortion, legal abortion, it's totally reasonable for us to expect that we will see people traveling to Maine to access care. We also know that we'll see people calling us. We saw this with Texas, that people would call our call center because they found us online. And we would try and help them find care that was closer. So in some cases, it will be directly providing care for people in banned states, but in other cases it will be providing assistance so they can get care closer to home.

And lastly, what's next for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England as the battle over abortion rights continues?

We will continue to do the work that we've been doing. We will continue to work on electing politicians who stand up strongly for reproductive rights and access to health care. But we will also continue our work where we, you know, have real conversations about abortion with voters because this is a value we all share. We all believe that people should be able to make decisions about their future without government intervention. This decision today is totally out of step with what our values are, and that's really what we focus on, is we'll keep having those conversations. We'll keep supporting people and telling their stories. That's not going to change because of today.

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