Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Janet Mills marked the 46th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion with a news conference signaling that her administration would work to counter anti-abortion efforts at the state and national levels.
Surrounded at Tuesday’s event by women legislators, the Democratic governor took aim at the notion that President Donald Trump’s “deeply dangerous” chipping away of safeguards under Title X would affect Maine women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care.
Maine is one of the most hands-off states on abortion — in law and attitude. Maine Democrats are looking to further expand access during this legislative session in ways that conservatives oppose and national events make Mills’ fight against Trump mostly symbolic right now.
Anti-abortion advocates’ power largely rests with Trump now, while abortion rights groups are leaning on states. In his first two years in office, Trump has signaled his desire to see Roe v. Wade overturned by suggesting abortion law regulations should fall to individual states — not the federal government. It’s hard to tell how much he can stride toward that goal given the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives elected in 2018.
Abortion rights advocates are largely focusing on states where Democrats won — including Maine. Anti-abortion advocates are relying on the Trump administration’s regulatory power and the conservative judges the president has appointed — including U.S. Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
The Trump administration has reversed many of former President Barack Obama’s efforts to increase access to contraceptives. Earlier this month, a federal judge blocked a new rule that would make it easier for employers to deny female employees access to contraceptives through a company’s health insurance policy. Mills portrayed limits on access to contraceptives as part of an overall assault on reproductive rights, with an end game of curtailing access to abortion.
“Forces that would undermine, or roll back, or outright eliminate your right to use birth control or to obtain a safe and legal abortion are more powerful today than they have been in decades,” Mills said. “States are now the backstop to prevent the erosion of reproductive rights.”
With new legislative clout, Democrats could expand abortion access in Maine, a state that has historically supported abortion rights more than most others. NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, places Maine among the 14 states where abortion access is most protected. A 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center said 64 percent of Mainers supported legal abortion in all or most cases, a mark that only lagged behind six other states. Maine is also one of the least religious states in the U.S., according to Pew.
All of this has kept abortion from being a hot-button issue in Maine politics at large. Access didn’t change meaningfully under Paul LePage, Mills’ anti-abortion predecessor, though anti-abortion forces are dominant in the state’s Republican grass-roots.
Last year, Maine’s high court heard a case from abortion providers who argue that the state’s rule against paying for abortions with Medicaid funding — except in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother’s life — violates the Constitution. Maine follows federal laws, but 15 other states exceed them, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Legislature will consider several abortion-related bills in 2019, including proposals from Democrats that would fund abortions under Medicaid. The anti-abortion Christian Civic League of Maine is vowing to fight them, but Democrats hold the keys in Augusta through 2020.
Collins cancels Texas fundraiser
Maine’s senior senator was scheduled to go headline a fundraiser in Texas on Thursday, but it looks as if the Senate is scheduled to vote that day on ending the shutdown. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins hasn’t committed to running for a fifth term in 2020, but the Republican recently told Politico she was preparing to run and that was reinforced by an invitation to a Houston fundraiser scheduled for Thursday with Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, tweeted by a reporter with the Center for Public Integrity on Tuesday. A Collins spokeswoman later said the event was canceled as the Senate moves toward votes that could break the federal shutdown on Thursday.
It underscores how seriously Republicans are taking Collins’ seat in the face of unprecedented Democratic organization against her after her vote to confirm Kavanaugh. After a crowdfunded effort raised millions to benefit her 2020 challenger, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, promised the Maine senator would be well-funded.
Collins won more than two-thirds of votes in 2014, but she may face the fight of her Senate career against one of a field of potential Democrats led perhaps for now by House Speaker Sara Gideon. Other high-profile Democrats including U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District, who lost to Collins in 2002, haven’t ruled out the race.
Today in A-town
Not much is going on in the Legislature as committee members mostly get to know each other. Five legislative committees will meet on Wednesday and four of them are holding orientations. The exception is the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which will hold hearings on rote bills on the Clean Election program and the liquor and lottery systems.
— The new governor undid another of the old governor’s signature welfare reform efforts. On Tuesday, Mills pulled Maine out of a waiver championed by her Republican predecessor that would have made most Medicaid recipients conform to work requirements and pay monthly premiums to remain in the program. As LePage’s tenure wound down before Christmas, the Trump administration approved a waiver making Maine one of the first seven states allowed to apply work requirements to Medicaid. As expected, Mills in a letter informed Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, that her administration wouldn’t accept the waiver terms, saying they “would leave more Maine people uninsured without improving their participation in the workforce.”
— The Supreme Court ruled that the president can restrict military service by transgender people as legal challenges to his proposed ban move through the court system. The high court split 5-4 in allowing the plan to take effect, with the court’s five conservatives — including Kavanaugh — greenlighting it and its four liberal members dissenting. Maine’s congressional delegation has opposed the ban, including Collins, who submitted a 2017 amendment aimed at thwarting it. All four members of the delegation on Tuesday issued statements supporting the position that qualified trans people be allowed to serve in the military.
— A strong year for Maine home sales ended on a sour note because of the shutdown. Single-family home sales in Maine last year rose in both volume and price, breaking records for number of sales and highest median sale price in the 20 years that data have been collected. However, in December, the number of units sold statewide decreased about 15 percent from December 2017, which Peter Harrington, president of the Maine Association of Realtors, attributed in part to the federal government shutdown.
— People along Maine’s coast have been fighting about development for decades. Those local disputes have global consequences, which is why a Norway-based company’s efforts to build a large land-based salmon farm in Belfast are drawing global scrutiny.
Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera became the first player to be named on every ballot when his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame was announced Tuesday evening. Getting baseball writers — a typically cantankerous lot — to agree across the board on anything might be as great an accomplishment as anything that shows up in his career stats.
While one could argue that bygone stars like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays or Cy Young, who spent far more time on the diamond and racked up more impressive numbers probably should have merited unanimous support, those slights should not detract from Rivera’s accomplishments.
Even a diehard Red Sox fan and avowed Yankee antagonist like me can tip my cap to Rivera today. But I do so while watching this video of a defining moment of his career. Over and over again. Here is his soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.
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