Maine News: Crowd Rallies in Portland for Abortion Rights, Calls Out Collins / by Bonnie Washuck

Alison Whitney, 84, of South Paris holds a protest sign while sitting in a lawn chair at Canal Plaza in Portland on Saturday | Ben McCanna/ Staff Photographer, PPH

About 200 demonstrate outside U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office downtown, and many want Roe v. Wade to be codified under federal law.

A crowd of about 200 people rallied for abortion rights Saturday afternoon outside U.S. Se Susan Collins’ downtown Portland office, joining a national backlash against Maine’s senior senator for her votes to confirm U.S. Supreme Court justices who appear poised to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

Rose Dubois of York led the crowd with chants.

“When abortion rights are under attack, what do we do?” she said.

“Stand up! Fight back!” the crowd answered.

Many of those at the demonstration held homemade signs, including one that read “Being forced to wear masks goes against your rights? Imagined being forced to carry a pregnancy.”

Another read: “Susan, we’re looking at you!”

Collins, a self-styled abortion-rights moderate, was the deciding vote in 2018 to place Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court bench. She also supported conservative Neil Gorsuch for the high court. Both made private pledges to her to respect the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, Collins said. But this past week a leaked draft opinion indicated that both justices would vote to overturn the precedent.

Collins on Tuesday issued a statement saying their assurances were “completely inconsistent” with the draft opinion. Emails to her office were not returned Saturday. Collins says she supports federal legislation to protect abortion rights, but not a measure that the Democrats are pushing.

At the rally on Saturday, Devyn Shaughnessy of Portland said Collins “has betrayed us in the past, but this is a pivotal moment where she has the opportunity to codify Roe v. Wade.” Votes are needed to protect abortion rights under federal law, and if Collins and a fellow Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, do not vote to do so, “they’ll have blood on their hands,” Shaughnessy.

Jo Ophardt, a member of the Maine Democratic Socialists of America, leads a group of about 200 people in a chant during protest in favor of reproductive rights on Saturday in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Under the draft opinion, abortion policy would be left up to the states, so which ever political party is in power could decide if it’s legal. “People are saying, ‘Maine’s ok. We’re okay for now,” Shaughnessy said. But in upcoming elections if Republicans take control and Maine “turns red, we’ll be in trouble,” she said.

One of the speakers at the rally was Dave Aceto of Portland who urged men to join the abortion conversation. They should not just show up with flowers on Mother’s Day, he said. Sons, brothers, and husbands should stick up for abortion rights of women.”

“Men where are you?” he said.

Abortion is a human right. Abortion is a health issue,” Aceto added. “To men I say it is time for you get involved. It is all of our voices that will keep abortions legal, safe and readily available.”

And to cheers he said:  “The days of white men having control over people’s bodies must end.”

Another speaker was Jeanne Lafferty of Portland, who remembers when abortion was illegal in the early 1970s. “We made it legal,” Lafferty said. “I have another question for you. Can we do it again?”

The crowd yelled “yes.”

The fight for abortion rights will have to be an ongoing, inclusive, national movement, she said.

What won’t work, Lafferty and others warned, is a few protests, a few demonstrations and marches, but then the anger fades and people “go home.”

What’s needed, said Portland City Councilor Victoria Pelletier, is consistency and bravery. She said the establishment will be ready for protests, chants and anger, but it’s not prepared for consistent, weekly messages.

She gave the crowd a list of steps to take, including a May 14 Day of Action by a Planned Parenthood committee that is looking for people to knock on doors during the day.

Pelletier also told rally participants to  “give our girl Sue a call” at her Washington office and urge her to protect abortion rights. Ans she encouraged them to write letters to Maine’s congressional delegation every week. Calling and writing again and again may not seem like it will make a difference, but it will, she said.

Abigail Forcier of Lyman said she attended the rally because “it’s most important to me that women retain the right to control their own bodies.” She also wants Roe v. Wade codified in federal law.

“Collins needs to really rally for that, to be a big a part of making that happen, and to speak for women everywhere,” Forcier said.

Originally published in the Portland Press Herald, May 8, 2022,