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Pregnant pause

Maine Republicans on abortion
By AL DIAMON  |  January 26, 2011

The Maine Republican Party has a death wish.

Over giving birth.

The GOP controls the governorship, both chambers of the Legislature, all three constitutional offices, and the hearts and minds of most swing voters. All it needs to do to cement its status as the state's dominant political organization for the next decade is to deliver on the economic promises it made before the last election.

Which, lest any GOP official has somehow forgotten, were to reduce state spending, cut taxes, and improve the business climate. Conspicuously absent from that list was anything about making major changes in Maine's laws dealing with abortion.

During the campaign Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage brushed aside questions about his pro-life position, insisting he was only interested in dealing with the budget and attracting new jobs to Maine. He said he wouldn't be advocating for new restrictions on a woman's right to choose.

But he didn't say he'd object if somebody else did that advocating for him.

According to news reports from the January 15 anti-abortion rally at the State House — an event LePage attended, but didn't speak at — GOP legislators have already introduced bills to require parental consent before a minor can have an abortion, to require women seeking abortions to be given material detailing the negative aspects of the procedure, and to require a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion can be performed.

That's right, the Republican Party, which firmly believes it's unconstitutional for the federal government to intrude on people's lives by mandating that they have health insurance, thinks it's perfectly OK to enact laws forcing pregnant women to jump through a series of hoops to obtain medical care. The GOP, champion of cutting red tape wherever it's found in the bureaucracy, is in favor of creating more government roadblocks for individuals who don't want to carry their pregnancies to term.

Oh, and they also want to make it tougher for minors to get birth control. And make it less likely sex-education classes in high schools will mention contraception.

After all, Maine needs to do something about its declining birthrate.

Obviously, Republicans are playing to their right-wing base. But that's a strategy that could backfire.

First of all, there's no guarantee these measures will pass. Influential GOP legislators, from state Representative Meredith Strang Burgess of Cumberland to state Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry are staunchly pro-choice and recognize there's no widespread support among Maine citizens for imposing new restrictions on abortion. Burgess and Raye could rally enough votes to block some of these initiatives.

If they do, their fellow Republicans should thank them. Killing these bills might just preserve their party's political prospects.

Here's why. In the near future, the US Supreme Court is probably going to rule on the future of Roe v. Wade, the 38-year-old decision that legalized abortion. If the justices decide to overturn Roe, legal authority over the procedure would revert to the states, which would then be free to outlaw it or severely restrict its availability.

Maine voters have consistently indicated they don't want either of those results to occur here. Over the past two decades, they've rejected any candidate for high office who put too much emphasis on his or her opposition to legal abortion. They shot down a citizen initiative outlawing late-term abortions. And even with the rightward tilt in the 2010 election, more than 60 percent of them cast ballots for pro-choice gubernatorial candidates.

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