December 19, 2018
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Reproductive rights are under attack. Mainers need to stand up.

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

The nomination of federal appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court puts the right to access a safe and legal abortion under immediate threat in the United States. Now more than ever, the people of Maine have an opportunity to stand up for reproductive rights — and not just by pressuring Sen. Susan Collins to oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

She must do that, of course. Kavanaugh, like all the nominees on President Donald Trump’s short-list, was vetted and approved by extreme anti-abortion conservative groups whose mission is to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that established women’s constitutional right to abortion. Just last year, Kavanaugh voted to block Jane Doe, an undocumented teen in federal custody, from getting an abortion.

His hostility toward reproductive freedom and health care access extends beyond abortion. Kavanaugh has supported allowing employers with religious objections deny their employees access to no-copay birth control coverage. With Kavanaugh on the bench, key provisions of the Affordable Care Act — such as protections for those with pre-existing conditions, minimum standards for insurance and contraceptive coverage — as well as Medicaid and other safety net programs would be on the line.

Indeed, the court may likely take up sweeping changes proposed by the Trump administration to the Title X federal family planning program, and here Kavanaugh’s vote could also put birth control access for low-income women at risk.

For all these reasons, Collins and Sen. Angus King must oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.

But Mainers can do more to defend reproductive rights.

The implications for women in the U.S. should Roe fall are not hypothetical. Although the right to access an abortion shouldn’t depend on where you live, the fight for reproductive freedom may soon be waged at the state level. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, people in 22 states would face an outright ban on abortion if the decision is overturned. Young and low-income women, people of color and anyone unable to travel out of state to seek access to abortion care would be disproportionately impacted.

Maine is one of a handful of states where the right to abortion care is preserved in state statute. Maine’s Reproductive Privacy Act, passed by the Legislature in 1994 and signed into law by Republican Gov. John McKernan, affirms a woman’s right to end a pregnancy until viability, and beyond that when a woman’s life or health are endangered by continuing the pregnancy.

But state statutes are less secure than protections memorialized in state constitutions. State law can be changed or repealed in the course of a single four- to six-month legislative session. Opponents of reproductive freedom know this and are poised to act once they have another friendly justice on the high court. Were the Reproductive Privacy Act to be repealed, we would join the 22 other states where Roe’s demise would have a devastating effect.

Other state laws protect and expand birth control access for Maine women. Here, too, the Legislature acted to support healthy families and children.

Under a Trump-era Supreme Court, with basic health care like birth control and abortion under attack, it is imperative that Mainers elect a pro-choice, pro-family planning legislators and governor. We must ensure that our state-level protections stay in place as a bulwark against a hostile administration and Supreme Court.

Now is the time to ask questions of candidates for elected office: Do you support abortion rights? Do you support affordable birth control access? Do you reject Trump’s proposed Title X gag rule? Do you support expanding MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to cover abortion care? Are you prepared to hold the line against increasingly emboldened attacks on basic reproductive rights?

The answers to these questions must be “yes.” Otherwise, Maine women will be in danger of losing control of their reproductive freedoms and futures.

George A. Hill is president and CEO of Maine Family Planning, which provides the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, throughout Maine.

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