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Analysis

In 2 key New England races, the candidates disagree over abortion — and the outcomes could have a major impact

US Senator Maggie Hassan, who favors abortion rights, faces challengers who are opposed.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Should Roe be overturned this summer, abortion will undoubtedly be a major topic of conversation in the region in all political contests. But in two statewide races, in Maine and New Hampshire, the contrast between the two candidates is stark - and the outcomes could have an immediate impact on the future of abortion rights.

If Roe is repealed, then the question of whether abortion is legal will be immediately referred back to each state. This raises the stakes in competitive races for governor.

Every state in New England has a contest for governor this fall. Most look like they will either not have a competitive election or the race will likely feature two candidates who both favor abortion rights.

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This is not the case in Maine, which is both a competitive contest and involves candidates with opposing positions. Incumbent Governor Janet Mills, a Democrat, has worked with a Democratic-led Legislature to strengthen abortion rights in her state.

After a draft ruling was published this week suggesting the US Supreme Court was ready to repeal the nearly 50-year-old ruling on abortion, Mills issued a statement saying, “I pledge that as long as I am Governor, I will fight with everything I have to protect reproductive rights and to preserve access to reproductive health care in the face of every and any threat to it – whether from politicians in Augusta or Supreme Court Justices in Washington.”

Her likely Republican opponent, former governor Paul LePage, who opposes abortion rights, issued a statement the same day, declaring that during his time as governor he had “a proven history of supporting life.”

“The federal government has regularly prohibited taxpayer abortion funding, except in the cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger,” LePage’s statement read. “I have supported that policy and will continue to do so.”

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That appears to be a softer tone from LePage than he took when he ran for reelection in 2014 and attended rallies for abortion rights opponents, declaring he was against “killing babies as a form of contraception.

There has been little polling in the contest, but top nonpartisan analysts like the Cook Political Report rate the race as leaning toward Mills.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, is in the midst of one of the top US Senate contests in the country. At stake is the balance of the Senate, currently split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

Senators confirm Supreme Court justices — and abortion rights activists would love to tip the court back in the other direction. But if Republicans take over the Senate, would-be majority leader Mitch McConnell has not pledged to even hold a hearing on any Supreme Court nominee that Democratic President Biden would bring forward.

Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat who favors abortion rights, is in a neck and neck contest with a large Republican field, almost all of whom oppose them. Among the leading Republican candidates is state Senate President Chuck Morse, who has boasted of his opposition to abortion rights, and Kevin Smith, who once led New Hampshire’s top social conservative interest group.

Hassan was seen at an EMILY’s List event in Washington Tuesday night. The group, which gives money to female candidates who favor abortion rights, has been a big backer of Hassan’s previous campaigns.

To be sure, Roe will also weigh heavily in debates and campaign ads in other competitive races in the region, including US House contests in Maine’s northern reaches, New Hampshire’s Seacoast, and Rhode Island’s western area.

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But the races for Maine governor and US senator from New Hampshire will more directly shape the future of abortion access.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.