Victory in Maine Just the Beginning for Feminists


by Sarah Martin, Field Organizer–PAC/Reproductive Rights

University of Maine students Tamara Mello and Sarah Smith jump to their feet at a  rally against Question 1, the anti-abortion referendum NOW helped defeat.  Photo by Deanna Partridge.

In honoring the 27th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, reproductive rights activists will celebrate important triumphs from 1999 and prepare for upcoming battles in 2000.

Last fall NOW helped rally Maine voters to defeat Question 1, a state abortion procedures ban.  Throughout October on to Election Day, NOW field organizers Loretta Kane, Anna Ekindjian and Sarah Martin joined forces with Maine NOW President Renee Berry-Huffman and other NOW activists to protect women's reproductive rights.

NOW organizers implemented a multi-pronged, grassroots strategy to turn out votes against Question 1.  They worked with college campus activists to register and mobilize students.  College voters overwhelmingly support women's reproductive freedom and proved to be a crucial voting block on Election Day.  Over Halloween weekend NOW dropped thousands of flyers statewide using the holiday theme, "Question 1 Trick or Treat?  Don't be tricked by Question 1!"

NOW also reached abortion rights voters through an extensive phone banking drive and a targeted postcard mailing. Maine NOW PAC brought visibility to the campaign with a signature ad in a statewide newspaper, hundreds of yard signs and "Keep Abortion Legal" rounds at busy intersections on Election Day.

NOW President Patricia Ireland joined Maine NOW activists at the University of Maine in Orono for a speech and rally on Young Women's Day of Action, Oct. 21.  The event generated statewide media coverage and energized activists to intensify the fight in the final two-week push to defeat Question 1.

Deanna Partridge, Greater Bangor NOW coordinator, said: "The whole experience—the process and victory—was amazing.  Because of our tremendous work in the defeat of Question 1, Maine NOW PAC has a stronger identity and more collective power in Maine."

Procedures Bans Meet Resistance

The battle in Maine epitomized the current rash of right-wing attacks on abortion. Question 1 utilized popular anti-abortion language, including the political term "partial-birth abortion" which does not describe any identifiable surgical procedure.  Supporters of Question 1 claimed that the initiative would ban only a particular late-term abortion procedure, but the proposed language was so vague that it could have applied to any abortion procedure at any stage of pregnancy.  Recently Missouri legislators passed a similar law which virtually stopped abortion services until a court stepped in to issue an injunction.

In 1999 the U.S. Congress passed an abortion procedures ban similar to the one defeated in Maine.  U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both Maine Republicans, made up two of the three votes that narrowly sustained President Clinton's veto.

"The defeat of Maine's proposed abortion procedures ban sends a clear message: Congress is out of touch with voters.  Instead of listening to the radical right, Congress needs to heed voters across the country and stop its attack on abortion rights," said NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy.

The victory in Maine marks the third loss for anti-abortion forces on procedures bans.  In 1998 voters turned down similar ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington state.  Thanks to activists in NOW and other reproductive rights groups, heavily funded anti-abortion rights groups are being defeated at the polls.

NOW activists around the country are gearing up for a busy election year — a year that could have a great impact on abortion rights.

"Each one of us has to make sure voters realize that the days of counting on a presidential veto and Supreme Court appointments like Ruth Bader Ginsberg could be behind us if George W. Bush is elected president,"  says Ireland.  "Congress and state legislatures will continue passing abortion restrictions unless we make substantial changes this election year.  The new president will likely name several Supreme Court Justices in the coming term and confirmation of even one more conservative justice could swing the court against constitutional protection of abortion rights.  We must use this January 22nd anniversary of Roe to issue a wake up call to voters of how critical it is to stand up to the right wing."

For more on reproductive rights, see the Legislative Update.


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