January 16, 2011

LePage joins rally against abortion

Foes push for several proposals in GOP-run Legislature

AUGUSTA -- One proposal would require that a minor's parents be notified before doctors perform an abortion.

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Abortion opponents applaud Gov. Paul LePage, seated at center, during a rally Saturday at St. Michael Parish in Augusta. Speakers lauded LePage for his opposition to abortion before a march to the State House for their annual protest.

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Abortion opponents surround the Statehouse Saturday during the annual Capitol protest.

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Another would impose a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can receive an abortion.

A third piece of pending legislation would set up a program to inform women of medical risks associated with abortion.

The proposals will all come up for debate before a newly Republican Legislature, and hundreds of energized abortion opponents said Saturday they're as optimistic as ever that legislation chipping away at abortion access in Maine will become law.

The activists rallied Saturday at Augusta's St. Michael School and later marched to the State House to trumpet the anti-abortion cause. Gov. Paul LePage, an abortion opponent, joined them for part of the rally, which was organized by the Maine Right to Life Committee.

"We're in a better place than I've ever seen us be with regard to these issues," Bob Emrich, a Baptist pastor from Plymouth and executive director of the Maine Jeremiah Project, told the hundreds gathered in the St. Michael School gymnasium. "It's really cool -- isn't it? -- to think that we're on the verge of making a difference."

While Maine voters have elected a new slate of politicians who oppose abortion, Emrich said, Right to Life Committee supporters can't sit back.

"We need to be supportive of them. We need to be praying for them. We need to be helping them in any way we can," he said.

Bishop Richard Malone of the Catholic Diocese of Portland called abortion a "moral evil."

"Abortion happens because there's something wrong in the minds and hearts of many of our brothers and sisters out there," he said.

The anti-abortion cause is gaining among teenagers and young adults, said Carl Maddaleni, who directs the Maine Vitae Society, the Right to Life Committee's advertising arm. That's the result of abortion opponents' concerted efforts to promote their cause online, he said.

"We want to change their attitude," he said. "We want them to question abortion, first of all, and then get them to be pro-life."

The hundreds in attendance Saturday included dozens of young people.

LePage, who joined the abortion opponents for the first portion of the rally, "supports the idea that abortion is wrong, and it shouldn't be a choice that anybody has to make," spokesman Dan Demeritt said.

The governor plans to "work with legislators on these issues," he said.

LePage made his appearance at the rally one day after he told WCSH-TV that he wouldn't attend Martin Luther King Jr. Day events in Portland and Orono because the NAACP represented a "special interest."

"I'm not going to be held hostage by special interests," he told the television station, retorting that the NAACP could "kiss my butt."

Asked Saturday whether the Maine Right to Life Committee represented a special interest, Demeritt said special interests inevitably would end up on LePage's schedule.

"This isn't about politics," he said of Saturday's rally. "This is about supporting a group that's worked very hard to make sure that life is a choice that everybody can make."

Sue Jones McPhee, a spokeswoman for the Family Planning Association of Maine, said she hopes policymakers maintain residents' access to family planning services, which include abortion, contraception, birth control and sex education.

"It's been 40 years, and Mainers have always been reasonable, independent and compassionate," she said. "It's a much longer-term issue than one administration."

Paul Fecteau of Gray said he attended Saturday's rally in hopes of setting an example for his three children. "I just wanted to pray for the unborn children," he said.

Houlton native Suann Dashnawr, who said she aborted a 22-week-old fetus in 1986, drove from Connecticut to attend.

"This is part of the healing process," she said.

Matthew Stone -- 623-3811, ext. 435

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