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Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, and Rep. Thom Harnett, D-Gardiner, co-chair the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.
Last month, as we both listened to the Supreme Court consider ending the legal right to an abortion, we felt deep sadness that the highest court in our democracy seemed prepared to surrender our constitutional rights and reproductive freedom, without regard for the physical, financial and emotional impacts on people across our country. The grandeur of the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., contrasts greatly with the many vulnerable people in our country who are denied reproductive freedom in their home states, and cannot get to states where necessary health care remains legal.
For years, those of us who support abortion rights have been planning for the worst-case scenario: What to do if Roe v. Wade fails. We can’t control or fully predict what the Supreme Court will do. But what we can do — and what we have done — is take steps to ensure people in Maine can still access safe, legal abortions.
For nearly 50 years, Roe v. Wade has protected the legal right to abortion, though that hasn’t stopped states from creating barriers and obstacles to make it all but impossible for many people, particularly those with low incomes, from accessing abortion care. These attempts have only been getting more extreme. Now, Mississippi is attempting to ban abortion and has taken its case all the way to the Supreme Court – asking the justices to effectively overturn Roe v. Wade.
In oral arguments on Dec. 1, a majority of justices signaled they would allow Mississippi’s abortion ban to be law. The question is how they will do so. Will they completely overturn Roe v. Wade, despite proclamations of settled law and fealty to precedent? Or will they hand down a decision that effectively guts the protections in Roe?
Politicians across the country are poised to act as soon as the court issues its decision: 21 states have laws or constitutional amendments to ban abortion as quickly as possible, with another five states likely to follow suit. That means that very soon, it could become impossible or nearly impossible to access abortion care in nearly half the country.
We all know from bitter experience that making abortion illegal doesn’t stop people from getting abortions — it just stops them from getting safe abortions. That’s why protecting access to abortion care is so vital. Just last year, the Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which we co-chair, saw several bills that would restrict access to abortion. As lawmakers, we voted down those bills and other bills that would have spread medically dangerous misinformation.
Thankfully, right now, we have the numbers in the Maine Legislature that we need to hold the line. But the lesson is clear: no matter how safe we think our state is, we cannot afford leaders who are indifferent or hostile to our reproductive rights. Elections matter, whether they’re presidential congressional, state elections or local elections. We cannot be complacent. We must continue to fight for our communities and take proactive measures to protect access to abortion care.
With a supportive governor and a legislative majority here in Maine, we have passed new laws removing barriers that prevented people from using their health insurance for abortion care. We defeated attempts to require medically unnecessary procedures and forced delays for abortion. We updated Maine laws so that trusted and qualified advance practice clinicians can provide abortion care to patients right in their communities. And this year, we will work to improve the safety of patients entering and exiting health centers, because no one should have to fear harassment, violence or intimidation when trying to access health care.
Abortion is essential health care, and health care is a human right. We must do everything we can to make abortion as accessible, affordable and safe as possible. We are committed to protecting your right to reproductive health care, no matter what the Supreme Court does.