April 23, 2018
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Anti-abortion rally draws hundreds to Capitol

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Hundreds of pro-life advocates joined hands — many of them gloved — and formed a circle around the State House on Saturday in protest of the countless lives they believe are needlessly snuffed out every year by abortion.

The event, sponsored by the Maine Right to Life Committee, is held every January on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that granted women the right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy.

Nearly all of the attendees of the annual Hands Around the Capitol event held signs that read “Stop Abortion Now.” They had marched from the nearby St. Michael Catholic School to the State House in bone-chilling temperatures. Once a circle was formed, a volunteer rang the giant bell in front of the capitol 39 times, once for each year since Roe v. Wade became law.

Rep. Michael McClellan, R-Raymond, was one of several lawmakers who attended Saturday’s event.

“I’m a Jesus lover and Jesus is love,” he said after the event. “One thing I noticed, even with all the political stuff, is that people were smiling. There is love here and that’s the key.”

Earlier in the morning Saturday, many of the same people attended a rally at the St. Michael’s school gymnasium to hear remarks from prominent pro-life leaders, including Bishop Richard Malone, head of the Catholic Church in Maine, and Carroll Conley, executive director of the Maine Family Policy Council, also known as the Christian Civic League of Maine.

Gov. Paul LePage, who is Catholic, attended the rally and spoke briefly, but did not participate in the march or the event at the State House.

“The press makes us out to be the big bad guy. But we care about people and families. Today is important. It’s important we get together to care about life,” LePage said, according to a press release from the Christian Civic League.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, had said Friday that the governor was attending in a personal capacity, not as the state’s political leader. By that, she meant that LePage has no plans to make abortion one of his legislative agenda items.

LePage also attended last year’s Hands Around the Capitol event, shortly after he was sworn in as governor.

During last year’s rally, there was a buzz around the election of LePage and the conservative shift of both the Maine House and Senate. Many right-to-life advocates predicted changes in the first session of the 125th Legislature.

But those changes never came.

The Legislature rejected multiple bills that sought to make it more difficult for women to get abortions, including:

  1. A proposal to impose a 24-hour waiting period for those seeking an abortion.
  2. An “informed consent” law that would require women seeking an abortion to be given materials about alternatives, legal rights and other information.
  3. A bill to outlaw violence against a fetus, which opponents deemed an assault on abortion rights.

“One of the biggest disappointments of my first year was the failure of the right-to-life bills,” McClellan said. “But for people that are pro-life, elections are coming, that’s a chance to see your voice heard.”

Conley agreed that the Legislature’s failure to enact what he called “incremental legislation” was disappointing. He did say that having Gov. LePage on their side is encouraging to pro-life advocates.

There are no bills before the Legislature at the moment that deal directly with abortion rights.

Asked whether public sentiment can change on an issue that has been legally settled for nearly four decades, Conley pointed to the growing number of young adults who oppose abortion.

“There is a growing number of the under-30 crowd that is not ashamed to say they are pro-life and they do it better than we do,” he said.

Indeed, many who participated on Saturday in Augusta were quite young.

“In the last 30 years, we’ve learned so much more about embryonic development and people need to have that information,” Conley said. “If that still doesn’t change their minds, OK, that’s the law.

“Often times [pro-life] efforts are seen as disingenuous. We need to be making sure that this not about a political win. We need to have a woman and her family’s best interests in mind.”

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