On Monday, Jan. 17, Mainers celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on what would have been the Reverend’s 93rd birthday. Dr. King’s legacy is one of fighting for human and civil rights for all people, and it’s a mission we all need to remember to carry forward. MLK Day serves as a reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we have to go to attain equal rights for all. Though in many ways the rights of Americans are more secure than they were when King was alive, we’re still far from the just and equitable society we’re striving for.
This year, King’s family called for no celebration of Martin Luther King Day without action on the national level to address voting rights. Our democracy is at a crossroads, with efforts to suppress the right to vote happening across the country. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act – the namesake of another great civil rights leader – and the Freedom to Vote Act have been held up in Congress for months. These bills are critical in the fight to stymie political efforts to suppress the votes of low-income Americans and of people of color by implementing unfair barriers to the ballot box. Fortunately, Mainers enjoy some of the strongest voting laws in the country, but we must never take them for granted or stop striving to improve.
This month also marks 49 years since the Roe v. Wade ruling, and what was once thought to be settled policy has been thrown into question. This summer, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks, and early signals indicate that the Court is likely to rule in favor of the ban. The Court has also refused to block a Texas law that bans abortion after just six weeks of pregnancy, far before many people even know they’re pregnant. Both Texas and Mississippi’s bans directly contradict the precedent set by the Roe ruling, which stated that access to safe and legal abortion before the time of fetal viability, which is around 24 weeks, is a constitutional right.
While abortion rights for Mainers are safe for now – the Maine Legislature defeated no fewer than six bills to limit abortion access last year – we must remain vigilant. The U.S. has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates of any high-income country, and the statistics are even worse for people of color. It’s a harsh reminder that the fight for reproductive health care is as necessary now as it ever has been. Last year, the Maine Legislature passed two laws focused on addressing this very issue. The first directs the state to study racial disparities in access to prenatal care, and the second extends the period of time that MaineCare must cover postpartum care from 60 days to 12 months. These bills are essential steps forward in making sure that all Maine families can get off to a healthy start.And, of course, the struggle for racial equality – a struggle synonymous with King’s name – is also ongoing. In 2020, our country saw some of the largest civil rights protests since King’s time as Americans stood up against systemic racism and police brutality. Our country’s historic mistreatment of people of color continues to impact the health and economic outcomes of these communities, and addressing these disparities takes political action. Though Maine is a far less racially diverse state than the country as a whole, we are not immune from racial discrimination and the effects it has had on Maine’s tribal populations and residents of color.
Each year, Mainers mark MLK Day by performing acts of service and by committing themselves to their communities. However, you honor this day in your own life, I hope you will carry in your heart the values and the passion that MLK fought for in his life. I think often of his famous quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe this is true, but I also believe that we all have a responsibility to make it true by fighting for our own rights and the rights of our neighbors every day.
If you want to discuss these issues further, or if I can help with any other matter of concern to you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me anytime. You can reach me on my cell phone at (207) 200-6224 or at Chloe.Maxmin@legislature.maine.gov. You can also follow along for updates on my Facebook page at facebook.com/ChloeForSenate and sign up for my regular e-newsletter at www.mainesenate.org