WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin solidified his position as the only anti-abortion member of Maine’s congressional delegation Thursday when he cast his first vote against abortion on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
Thursday’s vote on the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Full Disclosure Act of 2015 is widely seen as a case of majority Republicans in the House trying to make a point and appeal to their constituents, even though the measure has no chance of surviving a veto by President Barack Obama. In a written statement, Poliquin cited his Catholic upbringing and the fact he is a single father for his stance against abortion and justification for his vote.
“I don’t believe requiring taxpayers to fund abortions reflects the values of our 2nd District families,” said Poliquin, a Republican who represents Maine’s 2nd U.S House District. “Additionally, doing so would be in contrast to the moral conscience and religious beliefs of many taxpayers.”
Poliquin was at times cagey about his abortion stance during his 2014 campaign, insisting that his views were personal and not political. His overall anti-abortion stance helped propel him to victory against more moderate pro-choice Republican Kevin Raye, who opposes government restrictions on early term abortions, in the GOP primary election.
With a new majority in the Senate and a larger advantage in the House, congressional Republicans opened the new session aggressively earlier this month by proposing five anti-abortion bills in the first week. There has been speculation that national and Mainers’ views are tilting toward further restrictions or an outright ban on abortion, though pro-choice advocates say that’s just because anti-abortion advocates, at least in Congress, have a bigger soapbox.
A Planned Parenthood poll conducted last year in Maine found that 68 percent of respondents from the 2nd Congressional District said they preferred to vote for a gubernatorial candidate who supports a woman’s right to make decisions about abortions. The poll also showed that only about 3 percent of respondents said a candidate’s stance on abortion was a leading factor in how they would vote, a notion which was upheld by anti-abortion Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s easy victory in the general election.
Democrats assailed Poliquin for being tone-deaf to the attitudes within his district while 1st Congressional District Rep. Chellie Pingree aimed her ire at Republican congressional leaders.
“This is another example of how Republicans in Congress just don’t understand women’s lives,” said Pingree in a written statement. “Over and over again, they have tried to restrict abortion, drive women’s health clinics out of business, and generally get in the way of what should be a private conversation between a woman and her doctor.”
Pingree added that Republicans were playing propaganda with the title of the bill approved in the House on Thursday.
“The name of that bill is nonsense,” she said. “There are already laws preventing taxpayer funding of abortion. What this bill really does is block abortion coverage for women in the military, women who happen to live in Washington, D.C., and low-income women. And it even penalizes small businesses that offer comprehensive health coverage to female employees. It’s just outrageous.”
Not everyone sees it that way. Teresa McCann-Tumidajski, executive director of the Maine Right to Life Committee, said attitudes are swinging against abortion, especially when people realize that there have been more than 57 million abortions in the U.S. since Roe vs. Wade.
“We think this is a good day for Maine and the United States,” she said. “The way [Poliquin] voted was very much in the mainstream with most of the country.”
McCann-Tumidajski did not offer polling or other data to reinforce that position or contradict the Planned Parenthood survey findings.
Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said he was disappointed that a bill that would have banned abortions before 20 weeks of pregnancy wasn’t brought to the floor by Republican leaders on Thursday, as they had planned. He said he wasn’t surprised by Poliquin’s vote.
“When Bruce Poliquin ran for Congress, he made no apologies and didn’t hide from his pro-life positions,” said Conley. “We’re very pleased that Bruce has followed through with what he said he would do, as he easily won his election on that basis.”
Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman Rachel Irwin called congressional Republicans’ timing on Thursday’s vote, the 42nd anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade court decision, “appalling.”
“We’ve come too far for Bruce Poliquin and Republicans to turn back the clock on women’s reproductive rights,” said Irwin.
Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage said Democrats are skewing the issue.
“This bill wasn’t about putting anything between a woman and her doctor,” said Savage. “This was about taking taxpayer money and making sure it’s not spent in ways that people morally object to.”
The other members of Maine’s congressional delegation, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, have long records of supporting reproductive rights. Poliquin’s immediate predecessor, Mike Michaud, received support from anti-abortion groups when he first ran for Congress in 2002, but voted consistently for reproductive rights in recent years.
According to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, half of all pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unintended and four in 10 of those are terminated by abortions. In 2011, which is the most recent year for which data are available, there were 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women. In Maine, the rate in 2011 was 9.9 abortions per 1,000 women.
Asked what makes Thursday’s vote in the House so significant in light of Obama’s almost certain veto, McCann-Tumidajski said, “we are praying for the president’s pro-life conversion.”