Abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment to the Maine Constitution

 

This is the proposed constitutional amendment being considered by the Maine State Legislature.

 

LD 433: RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Explicitly Prohibit Discrimination Based on the Sex of an Individual

 

A recurring concern about the proposed amendment among abortion opponents is that by prohibiting sex discrimination at a constitutional level, the state will be encouraging ‘abortion on demand’.  Equal Rights Maine has taken a closer look at this issue.  Here are our findings:

 

Legality of Abortion in the U.S.

Since 1973 and Roe vs. Wade, abortion has been legal in the United States.  That case was decided by the Supreme Court's interpretation of 'privacy' from government intervention.  The decision was not based on equality between the sexes.  Abortion has been legal for nearly 50 years without an ERA.  The federal Hyde amendment (1977) has restricted abortion coverage for federally-funded healthcare recipients, specifically women enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid, Native American women, U.S. servicewomen and veterans, women in Peace Corps, female federal employees, D.C. women residents and women in immigration detention facilities and prisons.  

 

State ERAs and State-funded Abortions for Low-income Women

Access to abortion has been limited in various ways by the states, through state law. There are currently 13 states with state ERAs that do not fund abortions for low-income women.  There are 12 states with state ERAs that do use their own state funds to pay for elective abortions and similar services (of these, only 2 do so because of court orders referencing the state’s ERA, and only for ‘medically necessary’ abortions). After careful consideration, it is evident that the state ERAs do not tend to lead to state-funded abortion.  They have never been shown to lead to elective abortion, or ‘abortion on demand’, a catch phrase used by opponents. Denying all women equal legal rights under the constitution because of a personal opposition to abortion is misguided. 

 

Abortions Rates 

For most abortion opponents and proponents, reducing the number of abortions is desirable.  Surgical abortion should be, at best, a last resort.  State-level experiments have shown how powerful better access to birth control can be in reducing unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Colorado, for example, provided birth control for little or no cost to low-income women across the state. Between 2009 and 2013, it saw the state’s teen pregnancy rate decline by more than 40 percent - the sharpest drop in the country over that time period.  Colorado is a state with a state ERA that has very restricted public abortion funding for low-income women.  However, through its education and family planning programs, Colorado very effectively reduced the number of abortions in the state.

 

Public Opinion about Abortion

As of 2018, public support for legal abortion remains as high as it has been in two decades of polling. Currently, 58% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% say it should be illegal in all or most cases.  For those strongly opposed to abortion, finding ways to reduce the numbers should be a priority.  Contraception and sex education are the most effective ways to lower abortion rates, giving women the freedom to plan when and whether to have children.  Although some organized religions, the Catholic church as an example, does not officially 'allow' contraception, the majority of Americans, including practicing American Catholics, use and approve of contraception.  

 

Public Testimony against the Maine State ERA at the Judiciary Committee Hearing, March 7, 2019

The Catholic Church of Maine, Concerned Women of America, and the Christian Civic League testified against the amendment citing their opposition to abortion.  However, each opponent failed to make the case that a state ERA would have an effect on the availability or rates of abortion.  Testimonies from the Hearing can be heard here.  Hearing the remark that the proposed amendment has language that is unclear, we consider again the words of the amendment: 

 

LD 433: RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Explicitly Prohibit Discrimination Based on the Sex of an Individual.

 

It sounds clear to us. The abortion debate may continue as it has for decades, unrelated to equal rights. But that debate isn’t a rational reason to deny women their full legal rights and to deny all Mainers protection against sex discrimination. 

 

We encourage the Maine Legislature to vote YES on LD 433.  A YES vote on this proposal will send the amendment to a state-wide referendum vote in the next election. The people of Maine should be the ones to decide if women and men in Maine should have equal legal treatment under the law.

 

State funding of Abortion under Medicaid Guttmacher Institute

State funding of Abortion under Medicaid Kaiser Family Foundation

Public Opinion about Abortion Pew Charitable Trust

Public Funding for Abortion ACLU

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