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Maine Senate vote signals trouble for constitutional right to abortion

Dr. Julia McDonald, a family physician and director of abortion services at the Mabel Wadsworth Center in Bangor, speaks on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, during a State House rally in support of a constitutional amendment to guarantee access to abortion in Maine.
Kevin Miller
/
Maine Public
Dr. Julia McDonald, a family physician and director of abortion services at the Mabel Wadsworth Center in Bangor, speaks on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, during a State House rally in support of a constitutional amendment to guarantee access to abortion in Maine.

Republicans in the Maine Senate on Monday voted to block a proposed amendment to the state constitution protecting the right to abortion, signaling that it's unlikely to go to voters for final approval.

The 20-13 vote in the Senate is four votes short of the two-thirds needed to send the proposed amendment to voters, who have the final say on constitutional amendments.

While additional votes are forthcoming, Democrats don't have the votes to advance the measure on their own.

Sen. Eloise Vitelli, the Democratic majority leader from Arrowsic, argued that the proposal is aimed at protecting access to abortion, contraception and fertility treatments.

And she said it will enshrine abortion rights, which are now being determined by state legislators and governors following the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"For the good of each and every one of us, we need to get politics out of reproductive care and reproductive care out of politics," she said.

Some Republicans argued that the proposal would deepen the political divide over abortion.

The bill is part of a movement to embed abortion rights into state constitutions. So far, four states including Vermont have adopted such amendments, while nearly a dozen more could be on the ballot this fall.

In some cases abortion rights groups are organizing such efforts, but Maine is one of 27 states that require the legislature to send constitutional amendments to voters.

Meanwhile, more than 20 Republican-controlled states have either enacted restrictions on abortions or outright bans.

Lisa Margulies, of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, suggested in a statement that a similar fate awaits Maine if Republicans gain control of state government. Margulies said the recent opposition to a shield law protecting abortion and transgender care is evidence that "extremists in our own state and across the country will do everything they can to take away our rights and freedoms.

"Whether it’s the right to contraception, assisted reproductive technology like in vitro fertilization (IVF), full spectrum pregnancy care, or abortion, Mainers should not have to worry about those rights being revoked election to election," Margulies said.

The Maine proposal faces additional votes in the House and Senate, and if it fails, is likely to be highlighted in legislative races this fall.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.

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