The year 2010 will be significant in Maine, and not just because it’s another one of those dates, like 2001, invented by Arthur C. Clarke to scare the crap out of us with portents of cosmic upheaval and tutti-frutti computers running amuck. 2010 is when voters will choose a successor to, er ... what’s his face ... um, you know, the bald guy, lives in the Blaine House, not too good at his job. Well, never mind. If you had to come up with his name, you could always Google “governors, irrelevant.”
But back to 2010. Maine’s next chief executive will almost certainly be more consequential than this one — even if he or she turns out to be equally incompetent. And, strange as it seems, the new governor will have the US Supreme Court to thank for that increased stature.
Between now and the next gubernatorial election, the high court is likely to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion. Once that happens, the authority to regulate or outlaw the procedure will revert to the states. And that will make the issue a major one in both legislative and gubernatorial races in 2010.
Right now, the Legislature is widely perceived to be solidly pro-choice. But under that hardened surface, there’s a certain squishiness. In the most recent session, a bill to provide Medicaid funding for abortions for low-income women failed, although that was mostly because there wasn’t enough money to pay for it. In the previous session, 11 of the 35 state senators voted pro-life most of the time, with four others joining them on some issues. That meant a switch of just three votes in that chamber would have been enough to gain approval of at least some restrictions on abortion.
In the state House of Representatives, the split is even closer. In the 2005 and 2006 sessions, 74 legislators favored abortion rights fairly consistently. But that’s less than a majority in the 151-member chamber. If the 52 representatives with anti-abortion voting records had joined with the 25 who straddled the line, a woman’s right to choose could have been narrowed significantly by the imposition of waiting periods, mandatory counseling or parental notification requirements.
It’s not out of the question that the Legislature elected in 2010 would be amenable to, if not an outright ban on abortions in Maine, at least creating obstacles to obtaining the procedure. But before such measures could become law, they’d have to get past the next governor. So, here’s the question voters, both pro-choice and pro-life, should be asking everyone who so much as hints at a gubernatorial candidacy in the next three years:
If legislators approve a bill outlawing or restricting abortion in the state of Maine, would you sign it or veto it?
Candidates who try to waffle should find their campaigns flopping like pancakes, shriveling like overcooked bacon and crumbling like stale toast. Also, collapsing like gratuitous breakfast similes.
The current crop of gubernatorial hopefuls all have track records on the abortion issue that make predicting how they’d respond fairly simple. Among the Democrats, Attorney General Steve Rowe (with a name like that, you’d almost have to be pro-choice); John Richardson, state commissioner of economic and community development; and Congressman Tom Allen (if you believe the speculation that he’ll seek the Blaine House after he loses the 2008 US Senate race) have voted and spoken in favor of abortion rights. Their veto pens would get a workout.