More than 1,000 march in Portland to protest abortion ruling
The ruling means women no longer have a constitutional right to abortion, but Maine state law protects that right within state borders.
More than 1,000 people took to the streets of downtown Portland on Friday evening to express outrage at the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Holding posters in the air reading “bans off our bodies,” “abortion is health care,” and “Ruth save us,” the throng marched slowly from Lincoln Park to City Hall. They chanted “We won’t go back!” and “My body, my choice!” Drivers in vehicles blocked by the crowd of protesters honked their horns and cheered.
Gov. Janet Mills addressed the crowd as it spilled out of City Hall Plaza across Congress Street.
“No doubt about it, Roe v. Wade is on the ballot” in November, Mills said as she urged people to support her and other Democrats to protect abortion rights. She pledged to veto any effort to restrict access in Maine.
Abby Friedlander of Brunswick stood in the crowd outside City Hall and said she wanted to add her voice after the ruling came down.
“It’s just a real setback for women’s rights,” she said. “A large step back.”
Portland police estimated that at least 1,000 people turned out for the protest. A small group of anti-abortion protesters gathered to demonstrate as the huge crowd marched by.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade did not immediately affect the right to abortion in Maine, but the response here echoed the national debate about the dramatic change in access to the procedure for millions of people across the country.
Maine abortion rights supporters leapt into action when the opinion was published Friday morning, condemning the court’s decision and promising to defend the state’s existing law that allows the procedure.
Elected officials and political campaigns seized on the news, which is sure to shape the general election in November, when voters in Maine will choose a governor and all members of the Legislature.
Mills issued a statement promising to “defend the right to reproductive health care with everything I have.” Former Gov. Paul LePage, who is running to unseat her, referred to his “proven history of supporting Life.”
The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland called abortion “a grave injustice” and said the opinion will possibly save the lives of “countless” unborn children. Clergy from the Maine Council of Churches, a coalition of other faith communities, planned to speak at the evening rally in support of abortion rights and march at the front of the crowd from Lincoln Park to City Hall.
“While we can take some comfort living in Maine, knowing that abortion today is still safe and legal, it’s still subject to the same risks that the other states are, which means that a Legislature and governor determined to make abortion less accessible could easily overturn our protections here if elections go differently,” said Nicole Clegg, senior vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund.
In Maine, the right to abortion up until a fetus is considered viable outside the womb – 22 to 24 weeks – is codified in a state law that was signed by Republican Gov. John McKernan in 1993, exactly 20 years after Roe v. Wade.
QUICK REACTION IN MAINE
The Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which was posted to the court’s website at 10:10 a.m., struck down the nearly 50-year legal precedent set by Roe.
The decision says there is no constitutional right to abortion and allows states to ban or regulate the procedure for themselves.
“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” said conservative Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion.
The three organizations that provide publicly available abortion care in the state – Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, the Mabel Wadsworth Center and Maine Family Planning – immediately spoke out against the ruling and announced the rally for Friday evening.
Clegg, from Planned Parenthood, told reporters Friday that her organization has been gearing up for the overturning of Roe v. Wade for months, preparing for an influx of out-of-state abortion patients and abortion protesters, too.
“We will continue to do the work that we do in Maine and across the country to ensure that all people have access to safe and legal abortion,” Clegg said. “That means we will help register people to vote. We will help people share their stories and get engaged and ensure that people who are going to stand up for these rights are elected to office.”
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) called the ruling “shameful.” Equality Maine said it was “a sad and dangerous day in America.”
“For the first time, the Supreme Court has ended an individual constitutional right, turning its back on the American people,” said Gia Drew, executive director of Equality Maine. “This is an attack on our ability to live our lives safely and access health care. People of all genders need access to abortion. LGBTQ+ Americans already face significant barriers to accessing health care, and abortion bans will make that even worse, especially for poor, Black, Indigenous, and people of color.”
The Maine Center for Economic Policy said the opinion will damage “the autonomy, health and economic stability of working people” and called on the state’s congressional delegation to work to codify abortion rights in federal legislation.
“Abortion bans disproportionately harm Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other people of color, because of this country’s legacy of racism and discrimination,” the nonpartisan research organization said in a statement. “Abortion bans strip us of our freedom to control our own body and are a product of the historic and systemic barriers to care that too many communities face every day.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine said elected leaders in this state need to do all they can to safeguard existing abortion access, for people both inside and outside of Maine.
“States like Maine that protect abortion access will now play an even more critical role in providing care to people from states that ban or severely restrict abortion,” said Meagan Sway, the organization’s policy director. “Lawmakers should ensure that anyone in our state who seeks or provides access to abortion is protected. In November, we have to vote like our rights depend on it, because they do.”
The Maine AFL-CIO said the decision will “widen existing racial and economic disparities” in the U.S. and disproportionately burden marginalized and low-income women.
“While today’s Supreme Court ruling overturning of Roe v. Wade comes as no surprise to most who paid attention to the most recent supreme court confirmations, it is nevertheless a terrible blow to privacy and freedoms held by women for the past 50 years under Roe,” President Cynthia Phinney said in a statement. “The right to control what happens to her body is a fundamental element of a woman’s economic, emotional and physical security.”
FAITH GROUPS WEIGH IN
Rev. Jane Field, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, said its seven member denominations will continue to advocate for access to abortion.
“We have been planning for this day,” Field said. “Dreading it, but planning for it. Now that it’s here, we will redouble our efforts to protect everyone’s right to safe and legal abortion.”
Field said some are surprised by that position, but it reflects that the majority of people in the United States support abortion rights. The council has encouraged clergy to talk openly about the issue from the pulpit and is launching a new program to facilitate conversations about abortion within congregations.
“There are certainly people within our churches who uphold a religious belief that would prevent them from seeking abortion care if they had an unwanted pregnancy,” Field said of those who believe that life starts at conception. “But from our point of view … that’s a religious belief, not a scientific fact. Therefore, it doesn’t belong enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution is clear about that. Religious beliefs shouldn’t be law because then it imposes one version of religion on everybody.”
Bishop Robert Deeley, who oversees the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, shared a written statement that highlighted Catholic programs in Maine that work with people who are having difficulties in pregnancy or who have been involved in an abortion.
“Today’s decision reaffirms the truth that every life is sacred, and it promotes protection for women and children from the grave injustice of abortion,” the bishop said. “We welcome the possibility of saving the lives of countless unborn children as well as sparing many women and families from pain.”
The Christian Civic League of Maine also celebrated the ruling Friday morning but said there is more to be done.
“There is plenty of work still to do in Maine to uphold both the sanctity of human life and the dignity of women,” said Barbara Ford, a spokeswoman for the civic league and the executive director of Shepherd’s Godparent Home in Bangor, a shelter for women who are pregnant and in crisis. “Until meaningful change can happen in the Legislature, the focus should be on developing ways to support women in crisis by supporting churches, pregnancy centers and adoption agencies.”
In downtown Portland, street minister John Andrade joined about 20 people for a weekly protest against abortion in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic. He said he sees the ruling as a victory, but his group plans to continue its demonstrations because more work is needed to change culture.
“We’ve already heard from our governor that she’s going to continue to support abortion regardless of what happens on the national level,” Andrade said. “So, you know, I mean, I think we’re going to still need to be out here, standing for life in the room and upholding the rights and dignity and value of the unborn.”
Staff Writers Halina Bennett and Edward Murphy contributed to this report.