AUGUSTA, Maine — Anti-abortion activists Saturday geared up for a new fight over access to abortion at their annual Hands Around the Capitol rally to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision announced 36 years ago that made the procedure legal in every state.
Many of the more than 300 people who attended a rally at the gym in St. Michael’s School before walking the two blocks to the State House to join hands and encircle the building expressed concern that an Obama administration would expand abortion rights.
Teresa McCann-Tumidajski, executive director of the Maine Right to Life Committee, warned that the proposed Freedom of Choice Act would create a right to abortion that the government could not limit. She and other speakers urged attendees to call members of the congressional delegation and voice their opposition to the proposal.
“This is the single greatest threat we are facing in the pro-life movement,” she said. “Never before in the history of this nation have babies been so at risk.”
She also urged participants to pray for “a pro-life conversion of President-elect Obama.”
Sponsored by the Maine Right to Life, the Hands Around the Capitol event is a religiously focused ecumenical event that draws Catholics, evangelicals and mainline Protestants. It is held every year in Augusta a week before a similar national protest takes place in Washington, D.C. That event is set for Thursday, Jan. 22, the date the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision was issued in 1973 stating that most anti-abortion laws violate the constitutional right to privacy.
About 40 Catholic adults and teens from Greater Bangor traveled by bus to the event. Many of the teenagers never had participated in the protest before.
Sam Rice, 18, of Orrington voted for Obama but he disagrees with the president-elect on abortion.
“Now that I’m older, I believe he can change America and make it better economically,” Rice said as he held a “Stop Abortion Now” sign outside the State House.
Rice, a communicant at St. Teresa Catholic Church in Brewer, said that when he was younger he was more reluctant to express his opinion and probably would not have participated in a protest.
“I feel that I can make a difference,” he said of expressing what is according to national polls a minority view. “I don’t think the bill [FOCA] will be passed.”
Kyle Michaud, 18, of Brewer voted for John McCain. Michaud is a member of St. Mary Catholic Church in Bangor, where he is a member of the youth group. He said his views on abortion were not something he feels comfortable discussing at Brewer High School, where he is a senior.
“I’m here because I think we should give the babies a chance to live and not throw them away,” he said. “I think parents should try to give them a family [with adoption] or raise them themselves.”
Jean Barry, a longtime anti-abortion activist from Bangor, said she did not vote for Obama and did not share the buoyant mood many in the state and nation are feeling as his inauguration approaches.
“There’s a lot of excitement and hope around Obama becoming president,” she said. “Because of his stand on life, I don’t have a lot of hope right now.”
Paul Madore of Lewiston, who heads the Maine Grassroots Coalition, said after people had left the Capitol grounds that he was “very concerned” that Obama’s inauguration would increase access to abortion and roll back the limits set in place by the Bush administration.
“I think we should get ready for a tsunami of pro-abortion legislation to hit the streets,” he said.
Unlike Madore and many of the other activists at the event, Michael Heath, executive director of the Maine Family Policy Council, said he has been encouraged by what the president-elect has said and done since his election.
“I think Obama’s sending clear signals that he’s trying to govern from closer to the center than I thought he would,” Heath said. “So, I don’t think his pro-abortion supporters’ desires are guaranteed, not by a long shot.”
No representative of an opposing viewpoint could be located at the demonstration.