Abortion Emerging as Major Issue in Maine Campaigns

Jun 16, 2014

Mike Michaud at a Planned Parenthood event.
Credit Tom Porter

There are no new citizen initiatives around the issue of abortion this year in Maine, and no pending legislation - or even any discussion of new proposals. But those on the opposing sides of the abortion issue are becoming increasingly energized.  Dozens of anti-abortion activists packed a reception for 2nd Congressional District Republican nominee Bruce Poliquin last week and now, pro-choice advocates in Maine are endorsing the candidacy of Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mike Michaud. Pro-choice advocates say they're taking nothing for granted this election year.

Planned Parenthood's Maine Action Fund political action committee officially endorsed Michaud at an event in Portland, as the PAC's director, Nicole clegg, expressed some concerns about the future of state politics.

"We can't be complacent - we cannot sit on the sidelines," Clegg says.

Clegg says many pro-choice supporters were surprised by the major inroads made by conservative, so-called tea party Republicans in 2010 - a development that she says has resulted in a surge of restrictive abortion policies being passed in other parts of the country.

And Clegg says that same zeal may prompt activists to bring proposed changes to Maine.

"Now, we've been lucky in Maine that they haven't succeeded, but that doesn't mean that there still hasn't been an impact," Clegg says. "We've witnessed Gov. LePage veto the expansion of Medicaid, veto the women's health bill, cut access to family planning. He's an outspoken critic of access to safe and legal abortion. There's clear evidence that if women care about these issues, they need to get involved and pay attention."

Nationally, Planned Parenthood has been in the forefront of the abortion debate, and Clegg says since 2010, 200 pieces of restrictive abortion law have been passed. She says showing support for a political candidate in a statewide election sends an important message to voters, and can wind up influencing election outcomes.

"If you look at the Virginia governor's race, where Planned Parenthood was a key player, the political pundits whose post-election analysis concluded that it was women's health issues and women voters that determined the outcome of that election," Clegg says. "I think the same thing is going to be replicated here in Maine."

On the opposite side of the issue, anti-abortion supporters actively campaigned for Republican 2nd Congressional District nominee Bruce Poliquin, and were credited with their ability to get out the vote for their candidate. It's a development that continues to perplex pollsters, such as MaryEllen FitzGerald of Critical Insights.

"The interesting thing about 'choice' coming in here is that I'm always surprised that that continues to be a litmus test because there's really no legislation around that right now, but it does seem to be something that the candidates are really focusing on as a point of differentiation," FitzGerald said.

At the Christian Civic League of Maine, Pastor Bob Emrich chairs the league's board. He says the decision by Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund PAC to endorse Michaud for governor has a lot more to do with economics than politics, or public health.

"The general population is getting tired of the tactics of Planned Parenthood, who keeps talking about women's health care, preventative measures and all that sort of thing, and the reality is they're all about abortion - they make millions and millions, probably billions of dollars of profit that they make off the abortion industry, and people are seeing that and they can't hide that any longer," Emrich said. "People know that, and yet they're still always having their hand out from the government wanting more money."

Emrich says by backing acandidate like Michaud, Planned Parenthood enhances its profile with contributors in Maine and beyond.

Michaud later told reporters that he appreciated the group's endorsement and would continue to support a woman's right to choose an abortion.

A spokesman for the campaign of Gov. Paul LePage says Michaud's acceptance was just another way to tap into special interest money, while Eliot Cutler's campaign issued a statement saying Michaud's votes against abortion rights over 28 years as a state legislator reflect a poor record for a candidate who claims to be pro-choice.