Poll: Strong majority of Mainers back access to abortion later in pregnancy, statewide paid leave program

Photo: A rally in Portland protesting the Supreme Court’s decision to end the federal right to an abortion | Tanja Hollander via Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund

By strong margins, Mainers support allowing abortion later in pregnancy if deemed medically necessary by a doctor and back the creation of a statewide paid family and medical leave policy, according to a recent poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. 

The poll, released late last month, found that two thirds of Mainers (67%) support a law that would allow for abortion procedures after 24 weeks when a medical professional determines it is necessary. Just 28% are opposed to such a measure, according to the poll. 

The legislation would have the support of nearly all Democrats, a majority of independents, and a third of Republicans. The survey shows majority backing for abortion later in pregnancy across ages, genders and the various regions of Maine. 

Advocates hailed the results of the poll.

“This survey makes clear what we already know: A majority of Mainers care about protecting and expanding access to abortion, especially in our post-Roe world,” said Nicole Clegg of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, referencing the decision last summer by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn federal abortion rights. “And Mainers trust medical providers to help their patients make private medical decisions.”  

Clegg added that without federal abortion protections in place, “it is critically important that Maine lawmakers rise to this moment and act to protect patients and providers from politically motivated attacks not grounded in medical science or proper understanding of pregnancy.” 

State lawmakers are indeed taking action, with Democratic legislators introducing a slate of four bills — supported by Gov. Janet Mills — to strengthen abortion protections. The centerpiece of that package is a bill put forward by Mills and co-sponsored by Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) and Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) that seeks to ensure decisions about whether to have an abortion late in a pregnancy are indeed made by qualified medical professionals in conjunction with their patients. 

The other bills in the slate would strengthen protections for health providers so that they may safely offer care to people traveling to Maine for an abortion, bar municipalities from enacting any local ordinances that conflict with the 1993 Reproductive Privacy Act, and expand on a 2019 law that required both private and public insurance to cover abortion care.

Along with support for expanding abortion access, the University of New Hampshire poll found that nearly three-quarters of Mainers (73%) back creating a paid family and medical leave program, with just 19% opposed. The vast majority of Democrats support such legislation while independents and Republicans also favor it by majority margins.  

As Beacon previously reported, paid leave programs — which exist in 11 states —  generally allow workers to take longer periods of time off — often between 12 to 16 weeks in a year — for events such as a long-term illness, welcoming a new child or taking care of a sick loved one, among other situations. The lack of such a program in Maine has forced some workers to choose between their financial well-being and their health or that of their family. 

Lawmakers are looking to pass a paid leave bill through the legislature this session, with a commission set up to research and provide recommendations releasing its final report last month. That report will be turned into a bill for the legislature to consider. 

The legislative effort comes as advocates have also launched a referendum campaign to ensure the policy happens one way or another. That campaign, which would put a program providing up to 16 weeks of paid leave in a year on the ballot for Mainers to vote on, is being spearheaded by Maine People’s Alliance (of which Beacon is a project) and the Maine Women’s Lobby.

The groups spent much of the latter part of 2022 gathering more than 80,000 signatures in support of the referendum, exceeding the number needed to put the policy on the ballot. However, the campaign decided to not move forward with a November 2023 referendum, instead opting to hold the signatures for a potential ballot initiative in 2024 if the legislature fails to pass a paid leave policy. 

Among other questions, the University of New Hampshire poll also surveyed Mainers’ views on certain elected officials. Fresh off her decisive victory over Paul LePage in the 2022 gubernatorial race, Mills received a 58% approval rating, with 39% disapproving of the Democratic governor’s job performance. 

Republican Sen. Susan Collins continues to be extremely unpopular in Maine, with just 19% of people viewing her favorably and 55% viewing her unfavorably, according to the poll. Collins’ counterpart in the Senate, independent Angus King, has better numbers. Forty-five percent of people say they have a favorable view of King, while 33% have an unfavorable opinion of him. 

The University of New Hampshire poll surveyed 792 Mainers in February and has a margin of error of +/-3.5%. 

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