Update: On the night of January 21, Congressional leadership decided to pull the vote on a 20-week abortion ban scheduled for today. They instead plan to vote on H.R. 7, "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion," which threatens women’s health and access to abortion by denying access to health insurance coverage that includes coverage of abortion beyond the most narrow of circumstances. The ACLU will oppose all attempts to interfere with reproductive rights.

As we approach the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision on January 22, women’s rights advocates here in Maine are galvanizing to support pro-women legislation and fight against legislation that seeks to harm women and their families.

On Tuesday, the Coalition for Maine Women and the Maine Choice Coalition met at the statehouse for the annual Women’s Day gathering. The two coalitions organized the day as a kick-off to the legislative session, inviting Maine women to participate in a day of tabling, trainings, and legislative briefings. Approximately 70 women joined the 10 organizations that make up the Choice and Women’s Coalitions to discuss issues of pay equity, reproductive rights, childcare, and safety for women and families.

The day began with a tabling session in the Hall of Flags, where participants were able to stop by organizations' tables to learn more about the work being done in the state. The ACLU of Maine shared the space with several other women-focused organizations, including: the Maine Women’s Lobby, Maine Family Planning, Planned Parenthood, the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights (GRR). After the tabling session, the group gathered in the Welcome Center for a legislative briefing, where the coalitions discussed their legislative priorities: increased access to women’s health care services; strengthening protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault; robust early childhood programs for Maine families; ending the shackling of pregnant prisoners; defeating anti-abortion legislation; defeating any attacks on women and families living in poverty; and defeating legislation that supports discrimination based on religious objection. After the legislative briefing, the attendees first participated in a press conference, and then ended their day with workshops and trainings on reproductive justice, lobbying, and media strategies. 

On the national stage, a bill that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy is expected to come up for a House vote this week. I briefly mentioned this bill in my blog two weeks ago. The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was reintroduced by Representatives Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on the first day of the 114th Congress. This vote will be an important moment for Maine’s newest congressman, Bruce Poliquin. We agree with the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald, which urges Poliquin to “take a good look at the bill and vote ‘no.’” Poliquin is on record as an opponent of abortion rights – he made his views on abortion known publicly when he spoke at the “Hands Around the Capitol” pro-life demonstration last weekend. Poliquin has stated that he hasn’t decided how he's going to vote on the bill. 

The bill would deal a severe blow to abortion rights across the country. While proponents of the bill focus on inconclusive and controversial scientific evidence about whether or not a fetus can feel pain, they tend to obscure the other problematic aspects of the bill. The bill makes an exception for cases of rape or incest, but only if the sexual assault was reported to the police prior to seeking an abortion. This bill unjustly punishes victims by forcing them report the crime regardless of whether or not they’re ready to make that report. It is our hope that Poliquin does the right thing and votes against the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.