Participants at an abortion rights demonstration Wednesday outside a campaign event featuring Paul LePage and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Maine Beacon)
LEWISTON, MAINE — Around 50 people rallied Wednesday night outside a campaign event in Lewiston held by former Gov. Paul LePage and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, protesting both Republican politicians’ opposition to abortion rights.
The event with Youngkin, which was closed to the press, comes as LePage is trying to reclaim his old job in a race against incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.
Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race in 2021 after a campaign in which he embraced the endorsement of former President Donald Trump and pledged to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” — an academic concept that is not typically taught at the K-12 level but that many Republicans have seized upon as a campaign issue.
LePage himself has a checkered past on the issue of race. During his time as governor, he made a series of racist comments, including saying that “Black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers” and declaring of heroin sellers that “half the time they impregnate a young, white girl.”
But in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June decision to end federal abortion rights, advocates focused most of their attention on the two Republicans’ record on reproductive health rights. At the protest Wednesday, which was put together by Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, organizers said both LePage and Youngkin are out-of-step with voters on the issue.
Following the high court’s ruling in June, Youngkin proposed banning the procedure in most cases in Virginia after 15 weeks. And in Maine, LePage has a lengthy history of anti-abortion rhetoric, including saying in 2016 that “we should not have abortion.” In addition, the former governor recently stated that he believes abortion should be restricted when answering a questionnaire from the anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion Christian Civic League of Maine.
Pushing back against such rhetoric, demonstrators at the Planned Parenthood rally Wednesday evening held up signs with phrases like “Bans off our bodies” and joined together in a variety of chants, including “Pro-life is a lie, they don’t care if people die,” and “Paul LePage, go away, abortion rights are here to stay.”
Participants also wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalk such as “I will never regret my abortion” and “Go back to Florida” — a reference to LePage’s decision to move to that state after leaving office.
The crowd received a boost from people driving by, many of whom honked in support of the demonstrators. All the while, some LePage supporters attending the event inside came to the window of the building to look out at the protest.
As they wrapped up the event, organizers of the demonstration urged participants to stay involved in the fight for abortion rights and to make sure they vote in the upcoming November election. They argued that LePage’s record and his decision to campaign with Youngkin clearly show his hostility to reproductive health rights in Maine.
“Paul LePage says he doesn’t have time for abortion, he wouldn’t restrict abortion, but hanging out with friends like Governor Youngkin from Virginia proves otherwise,” said Jessica Milinichik, director of organizing at Planned Parenthood in Maine.
Others also said they fear what will happen to abortion in Maine if LePage wins in November.
“Abortion rights are essential and I think it’s pretty clear that if LePage is reelected, our rights are going to be diminished,” said Kerry Anderson, another attendee of Wednesday’s protest. “And I can’t stand for that, I need to fight back.”
Those at the rally added that it is even more essential to protect abortion rights here given that some states around the country banned the procedure following the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down Roe v. Wade.
“People from out of state are already coming here to get their abortions,” said Ruth Keister, who added that she attended the rally to support Planned Parenthood and people who have had or will have abortions.
Janet Coulter, another Mainer at the event, said the right to an abortion should be a settled issue by now.
“I’m in my 70s, I fought for this in the 1960s and the 1970s … it’s a medical health care issue,” Coulter said, adding that she’s worried that LePage is “back on the scene” in Maine politics.
Maine, Virginia Democratic parties criticize event
Along with the Planned Parenthood event, the Democratic parties of Maine and Virginia also blasted the LePage-Youngkin event at a joint press conference Wednesday morning.
“When Glenn Youngkin ran for governor last year, he did everything he could to turn the conversation away from his unpopular stance on abortion rights,” said Drew Gattine, the chairperson of the Maine Democratic Party. “Now that he’s governor of Virginia and Roe v. Wade has been overturned, he’s pushing hard to criminalize abortion. Paul LePage is currently engaged in exactly the same kind of dance, trying to take attention away from his draconian views on abortion rights.”
Gattine continued, “Make no mistake, if he’s given the chance, he will follow in Governor Youngkin’s footsteps. He knows it’s not what people want. But frankly, he doesn’t care.”
Maine Sen. Anne Carney (D-Cumberland), the chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said her committee has seen Republicans introduce six different anti-abortion bills since 2020. She fears that if Republicans win back a legislative majority during the November midterm election, LePage will help his party gut Maine’s abortion protections.
“When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion, I immediately wanted to reassure Mainers that our rights to medical privacy and abortion care were safe. But I couldn’t because the risks are very real for us,” she said. “These rights are constantly under threat.”
The Virginia Democratic Party also criticized Youngkin for campaigning with LePage, citing the former Maine governor’s racist comments.
“If you want to know someone’s character, look at the friends he keeps,” said Susan Swecker, chair of the Virginia Democrats. “LePage has said the enemy right now is people of color.”
This story first appeared in the Maine Beacon, a sister publication of The Virginia Mercury within the States Newsroom network. Beacon reporter Dan Neumann contributed reporting to this story.
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