The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Sen. Collins voices opposition to Democratic legislation that would create statutory right to abortion

In 2017 and 2018, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) defended Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, in part, by pointing to their respect for precedent. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), one of two prominent Republican senators who support abortion rights, said Thursday that she does not support a Democratic measure that would create statutory right to the procedure, arguing that the legislation does not provide sufficient protection to antiabortion health providers.

The statement from Collins comes as the Senate is preparing to vote next week on the legislation, known as the Women’s Health Protection Act, and as the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which established a woman’s right to an abortion.

“It supersedes all other federal and state laws, including the conscience protections that are in the Affordable Care Act,” Collins told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday when asked whether she supports the bill authored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). She added: “It doesn’t protect the right of a Catholic hospital to not perform abortions. That right has been enshrined in law for a long time.”

The measure appears headed for failure with or without Collins’s support, since 60 senators would need to vote “yes” to overcome a filibuster. Democrats hold a slim majority with 50 seats in the chamber and Vice President Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.

Public polling shows a majority of Americans support the right to abortion in most instances.

Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who also supports abortion rights, voted against an earlier version of the legislation in February. At the time, Collins voiced similar concerns about the legislation’s effect on health-care providers who do not want to perform abortions.

After the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on abortion, the bill was modified this week to omit pages of legislative fact-finding that included some politically divisive language, but the substance of the bill remained the same.

A Democrat who voted against the previous legislation in February, Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), would not say Thursday whether he would support the modified bill. “I’m looking at everything,” he told reporters. “You know, we have to bring the country back together, okay? We just got to come back together.”

Democrats argued Thursday that Collins’s fears about the rights of antiabortion health-care providers are unwarranted.

“Some are saying that this legislation would tell hospitals — certain religious hospitals — that they have to perform abortions,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference Thursday afternoon, without naming Collins. “That is simply not true. This bill simply gives providers the statutory right to provide abortion care without medically unnecessary restrictions. That’s plain and simple. So, this rumor is false.”

While there are no specific conscience protections in the bill, prior court precedents would remain in effect, Democrats maintain.

Collins and Murkowski have offered a competing bill, the Reproductive Choice Act, that is much more narrowly drawn than the Democratic bill and does not have any other co-sponsors. The bill is viewed skeptically by Democrats, who think that it has loopholes that would permit state laws such as Mississippi’s law barring abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Schumer said Thursday that he is not proceeding with a vote on the Collins-Murkowski measure because “we’re not cutting back; we’re not compromising.”

“This is about a woman’s right to choose — fully,” he said. “We are not looking to compromise [on] something as vital as this. People should show where they stand. This has been American law for 50 years. And this idea, ‘Do a little of this; do a little of that.’ Forget it.”

At Thursday’s news conference, Schumer and other Senate Democrats gave few indications of what steps might follow next week’s vote. But they blasted Republicans, with Schumer pledging that when the matter comes to a vote, GOP senators “will not be able to hide from the horror they’ve unleashed on America.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said that Republicans are taking the country backward — not to the 1950s, as some Democrats have argued, but “back to the 1850s.”

And Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) denounced the Supreme Court draft opinion as “barbaric” and “inhumane.”

“I do not think that 50 percent of America should be told that they have to put their bodies at risk of life or death without their consent. … I hope every human being in this country understands that when you take away a woman’s right to make her decisions about her health and well-being, she is no longer a full citizen,” Gillibrand said.

The New York Democrat also countered concerns about the leak of the opinion by calling for greater scrutiny of the justices who testified during their confirmation process that they would respect precedent — yet support overturning Roe.

“It is an outrage that we have five justices on the Supreme Court who lied — lied — in their confirmation hearings in order to be confirmed,” Gillibrand said. “It is an outrage that in America today that our judicial system is so corrupted and so politicized and no longer representative of the will of the people. … Five said they would never undermine established precedent. It is unconscionable what this decision will do to the American people.”

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