PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — An effort to undo state lawmakers' elimination of religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccines will be decided by a statewide vote in March if petitions submitted Wednesday are validated by the state.
Mainers for Health and Parental Rights delivered more than 77,000 signatures to the secretary of state in Augusta, surpassing the threshold of 63,054 signatures of registered voters necessary to get onto the ballot.
Those signatures still have to be validated.
But Cara Sacks, co-chair of Mainers for Health and Parental Rights, said she anticipates the vaccine measure will make it onto the ballot — and that Mainers will restore non-medical exemptions for school-required vaccines.
"We are confident the Maine people will veto this draconian law pushed through our legislature by 'Big Pharma.' It's clear the people of Maine will reject this law," she said in a statement.
The Legislature's removal of religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccinations came against the backdrop of a spike in whooping cough cases in Maine. Growing numbers of unvaccinated children endanger "the most vulnerable members of our communities," according to Maine Families for Vaccines.
Separate efforts to undo the Death With Dignity Act and to stop taxpayer funding for abortions came up short.
Both petition drives failed to obtain enough signatures, said Carroll Conley of the Christian Civic League of Maine.
Conley said polling shows a majority of Mainers don't support taxpayer-funded abortions, and he said that "normalizing suicide" through a physician-assisted suicide law is "reckless public policy."
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England was happy that the effort to spike the abortion law was defeated. The law requires Maine's Medicaid program and private insurers to cover abortion.
"Each person in Maine should be allowed to make their own medical decisions about abortion — no matter how much money you make or what kind of insurance you have," said spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.
Also coming up short was an effort to undo Maine's new presidential primaries, which will replace party-run caucuses.
That means the people's veto referendum would take in March during presidential primaries, which represent the next statewide election.
Jack McCarthy, of Woodland, was the lead petitioner for additional failed people's veto efforts on Maine's ban on gay conversion therapy and several other laws. He also helped to gather signatures for the failed attempt to stop physician-assisted suicide and taxpayer funding for abortions.
"It's truly sad that something as important as religious liberties can't garner 67,000 signatures," he said. "That's a sad commentary on the Christian church in America."