Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who years ago assured voters that she could not vote for a judge who had “demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade,” criticized the Supreme Court’s decision Friday to overturn the landmark ruling, which for nearly 50 years had guaranteed the right to an abortion in the United States.
“The Supreme Court has abandoned a fifty-year precedent at a time that the country is desperate for stability,” Collins said in a statement. “This ill-considered action will further divide the country at a moment when, more than ever in modern times, we need the Court to show both consistency and restraint.”
“Throwing out a precedent overnight that the country has relied upon for half a century is not conservative,” Collins continued. “It is a sudden and radical jolt to the country that will lead to political chaos, anger, and a further loss of confidence in our government.”
Collins voted to confirm Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, two of President Donald Trump’s nominees to the Supreme Court who were crucial to tilting the high court 6 to 3 in conservatives’ favor. At the time, she told reporters that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh had assured her that Roe was “settled as precedent.” Publicly, too, the question of how Kavanaugh would rule in a challenge to Roe v. Wade came up multiple times during his confirmation hearings, with Kavanaugh emphasizing that Roe v. Wade was “settled as precedent.”
In one exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) then, Kavanaugh said that, “as a general proposition,” he understood the importance of the precedent set in Roe v. Wade, and outlined the rationales that undergirded both Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion before fetal viability.
Kavanaugh later went on at length to talk about how Planned Parenthood v. Casey had reaffirmed Roe, making it “a precedent on precedent.”
“I understand the importance of the issue. I understand the importance that people attach to the Roe v. Wade decision, to the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision,” Kavanaugh said. “I do not live in a bubble. I understand. I live in the real world. I understand the importance of the issue.”
In his 2017 confirmation hearing, Gorsuch said Roe was “a precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court” and claimed that he “would have walked out the door” if Trump had asked him to overturn Roe v. Wade because “that’s not what judges do.”
“Once a case is settled, that adds to the determinacy of the law,” Gorsuch said then. “What was once a hotly contested issue is no longer a hotly contested issue. We move forward.”
On Friday, Collins insinuated that the two justices had misrepresented their views on Roe v. Wade when they met with her privately during the nomination process.
“This decision is inconsistent with what Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said in their testimony and their meetings with me, where they both were insistent on the importance of supporting long-standing precedents that the country has relied upon,” Collins said.
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) also suggested that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh had betrayed his trust, saying he was “deeply disappointed” in Friday’s ruling.
“I trusted Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh when they testified under oath that they also believed Roe v. Wade was settled legal precedent and I am alarmed they chose to reject the stability the ruling has provided for two generations of Americans,” Manchin said in a statement.
Manchin, who has described himself as a “pro-life Democrat,” said in his statement that he has come to accept that “my definition of pro-life may not be someone else’s definition of pro-life.”
“I believe that exceptions should be made in instances of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in jeopardy,” Manchin said. “But let me be clear, I support legislation that would codify the rights Roe v. Wade previously protected.”
On Friday, Collins called on Congress to support legislation she had introduced with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would codify the abortion rights established by Roe and later affirmed by Planned Parenthood v. Casey. She said she was also working with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on bipartisan legislation that would additionally codify Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt — which dictated that states could not place restrictions on abortion services that would cause undue burden for those seeking an abortion — and Griswold v. Connecticut, which granted married couples access to contraception without government restrictions.
“The threshold question of whether abortion is legal needs to be consistent at a national level. States can account for regional differences with regulations like parental notification requirements, but the basic right needs to be the same for all American women,” Collins said. “Our goal with this legislation is to do what the Court should have done — provide the consistency in our abortion laws that Americans have relied upon for 50 years.”
Murkowski, another Republican who has said she supports abortion rights, voted to confirm Gorsuch but not Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. On Friday, she issued a statement that made no mention of either justice but focused on the implications of the court’s decision.
“Today the Supreme Court went against 50 years of precedent in choosing to overturn Roe v. Wade. The rights under Roe that many women have relied on for decades — most notably a woman’s right to choose — are now gone or threatened in many states,” Murkowski said, stressing that it was up to Congress to act.
“I am continuing to work with a broader group to restore women’s freedom to control their own health decisions wherever they live. Legislation to accomplish that must be a priority,” she said.
In a separate post on her campaign account, she criticized her Republican challenger for vowing to redirect taxpayer funds to providers in Alaska who do not perform abortions.
“... Cutting off access to critical healthcare services to thousands of Alaskan women in the process,” Murkowski responded to a tweet from the Trump-backed Kelly Tshibaka. “Add to that your push to criminalize receiving contraceptives in the mail. This is not the change Alaskans want or need.”