In Maine, pro-life leaders are gathering signatures for a November 1999 ballot measure that would seek to classify partial-birth abortion as infanticide. Some 52,000 signatures are needed by Jan. 1 and 27,000 are already collected.

“We're going all out,” says Father James Nadeau, pastor of Portland's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Bishop Joseph Gerry authorized signature gatherers to work at parishes on Oct. 4, an unprecedented step in Maine.

The Diocese of Portland has allied itself with the Christian Coalition and Maine Right to Life in the campaign. Rank-and-file parish volunteers have stepped up to help in the effort.

As in Washington state, where voters will decide on a similar ban next month, Maine's pro-life leaders are going straight to the electorate after a bill failed narrowly in the state legislature.

No polls have been taken, but diocesan spokesman Mark Mutty says a majority of Maine voters will probably support the ban. Washington is the first state to attempt a ban by voter initiative. In the past three years, partial-birth abortion has been outlawed by legislatures in 25 states. But legal challenges have put the bans on hold in all those states except South Dakota, Mississippi, South Carolina, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, and Oklahoma.

The Washington initiative and the Maine effort are attracting national attention and may signal a new strategy in the fight against partial-birth abortion.

“These campaigns have a huge secondary effect of keeping the question alive nationally,” says Helen Alvare of the U.S. Catholic bishops' pro-life office. “It keeps people interested and active in a very practical, local, meaningful way.”

Alvare contends that Washington state pro-life advocates have been able to uncover the main weakness of their opponents—evidence against the bans is mostly anecdotal. “We have been able to debunk every hypothetical they can present,” she says. “When stories are challenged or when we ask them to bring up any doctor to say the story is true, they can't.”

Ed Langlois