Planned Parenthood’s endorsements highlight divisive women’s rights issues in upcoming election

Nicole Clegg, chairwoman of Planned Parenthood Maine's Action Fund PAC, announces the organization's endorsement of Mike Michaud for governor at an event in Portland in June. Troy R. Bennett/Bangor Daily News

Nicole Clegg, chairwoman of Planned Parenthood Maine’s Action Fund PAC, announces the organization’s endorsement of Mike Michaud for governor at an event in Portland in June. Troy R. Bennett/Bangor Daily News

Planned Parenthood Maine’s Action Fund PAC announced Thursday that it will launch a $500,000 campaign to elect candidates this November who support women’s health and reproductive rights. That includes Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud, whom the group endorsed earlier this year.

The group also rolled out numerous endorsements in Maine Senate races, which all went to Democrats with the exception of Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, who is the assistant Senate minority leader.

The impact of political endorsements on the electorate is questionable in general, but Planned Parenthood is one group whose nod to certain candidates may matter. Women’s reproductive rights, which covers abortion and the thorny issue of what procedures and contraceptives health insurance companies should cover, is always a divisive issue in politics and for many voters, a decider at the election booth. That reality will be amplified this year because of the controversial Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court last month which means employers can opt out of allowing certain forms of contraception to be covered by their employees’ health plans.

In June, the Supreme Court also struck down a law in Massachusetts that created protest-free buffer zones around abortion clinics. That decision is expected to have wider implications than just in Massachusetts.

At the state level, women’s health issues have been an ongoing source of controversy, including earlier this year when Republican Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill known as the Maine Women’s Health Initiative, which would have benefited 13,700 low-income women through a limited expansion of Medicaid. The bill would have expanded access to cancer screenings, well-woman exams and testing and treatment for STDs. The veto was sustained behind the votes of every Republican in the House except Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, who is not seeking reelection.

There are also signs that abortion could become a defining issue in the race for the open 2nd Congressional District seat, where Democrat Emily Cain of Orono, Republican Bruce Poliquin of Oakland and independent Blaine Richardson of Belfast are the candidates. For more analysis on the impact of social issues in that election and others, check out this recent BDN analysis.

“Women’s health and rights are under attack around the nation. The stakes are high and now is the time to make a stand,” said Nicole Clegg, chairwoman of Planned Parenthood’s Maine Action Fund PAC in a written statement. “We will not let extreme politicians roll back rights that generations of women have fought for, and it is our mission to elect candidates who will stand with us.”

Though the group’s strategy is still unfolding, it announced Thursday that it will spend at least $500,000 on behalf of Michaud and Sen. Jim Boyle of Gorham, who is locked in a battle with Republican Amy Volk, a two-term representative from Scarborough.

Boyle, who is near the end of his first Senate term, won the seat in 2012 with about 55 percent of the vote against Republican Ruth Summers of Scarborough. Volk, one of the more vocal Republican members of the House, first gained her seat in 2010 by beating Democrat Sean Flaherty with 53 percent of the vote and was re-elected to the seat by a 12-vote margin in 2012 against Democrat Paul Aranson.

Planned Parenthood targeting the Boyle vs. Volk race is a clear indication that it is one of the races to watch as Republicans attempt to take over the majority in the Senate, which is widely thought to be more possible for the GOP than gaining the majority in the House.

The PAC endorsed 22 of the Democratic candidates for the Senate. Senate Republican Leader Mike Thibodeau, whose opponent, Democrat Jonathan Fulford, was endorsed by the PAC in the Winterport area, said he doubts Planned Parenthood’s preferences will amount to much in the outcome.

“What really matters is that candidates have a visions they can share with the voters and that they offer solutions and not just criticism,” said Thibodeau. “At this point criticism is what the Democratic party seems to be all about.”



Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.