PORTLAND, Maine — Nearly four years have passed since Senator Susan Collins cast the crucial swing vote that confirmed Brett Kavanaugh, who had been suspected of opposing Roe v. Wade, as a Supreme Court justice. The furor that followed her decision had largely abated.
But the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn constitutional protection for abortion has once again put Collins’s vote for Kavanaugh back in the minds of voters, as he is purportedly one of five justices in favor of repealing Roe.
“I’m appalled. That’s the only word I can think of,” Anna Karlina, 75, said as she sold her photography on Exchange Street in the Old Port. “I feel like it’s just turned the clock back 60 years. But I’m not surprised, put it that way.”
Collins, who recently voted to confirm Kentanji Brown Jackson as the court’s first Black woman, on Tuesday assailed the draft opinion to strike down Roe. In a statement, the five-term Republican reasserted that Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch, following their nominations by Donald Trump, had both told her they did not believe in tampering with the legal precedent set by the Roe ruling in 1973.
“If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office,” Collins said.
Those words did little to mollify some Mainers, who said that Collins’s credibility — or perhaps her credulity — deserves fresh scrutiny.
“Since Kavanaugh said it was settled law, I kind of took him at his word,” Russell Turner, of Harpswell, said as he sat by Winthrop Lake with his wife, Sophia Gabriel.
“You have to wonder, who lied there?” the 69-year-old Turner said. “Did he lie? Did she?”
Collins’s decision to confirm Kavanaugh, announced amid high drama in a 45-minute speech, sealed his elevation to the high court on a 50 to 48 Senate vote.
Turner and Gabriel both identify as Democrats and have never voted for Collins, including in her fiercely contested 2020 reelection. Gabriel, a 68-year-old who said she often writes to the senator, said she finds Collins to be “two-faced,” especially when it comes to statements about believing that Kavanaugh would respect Roe v. Wade.
Elsewhere in Winthrop, Jesse Stanford stood among candles, cards, and vintage tchotchkes at his Freckle Salvage Co. As someone who employs and is surrounded by women all day, Stanford said, he can’t help but support a woman’s right to choose.
Stanford, who is a libertarian, said it’s none of his business what a woman does with her body. “Once I start subjecting my opinions to this,” he said, “I should start being subjected to other people’s opinions on my personal decisions, too.”
Nevertheless, Collins is the state’s longest-serving member of Congress, and she retains a resilient popularity, especially in the rural, less populated areas north and west of Portland.
Mary St. Amand, 60, a longtime Collins supporter from Durham, said she is disappointed that Roe might be overturned, but is also willing to give the senator the benefit of the doubt.
“I have my trust in Susan Collins,” St. Amand said. “And if the people she voted in vote to take away Roe v. Wade, I would say, well, she did what she could with the knowledge she had at the time, and couldn’t predict that they would change their minds.”
But others see a straight line from Collins’s vote to confirm Kavanaugh to a draft ruling that, if finalized, would strip federal protection for abortion before the point of viability, which is now around 24 weeks. An estimated 26 states are believed to be certain or likely to ban abortion if Roe is overturned.
Karlina, the Portland photographer, said Collins “absolutely” bears some responsibility for the court’s journey to this point.
“She’s just a political animal and talks out of both sides of her mouth,” said Karlina, who protested at Collins’s Portland office during the run-up to Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
In a protest in Portland on Tuesday, an estimated 500 people rallied outside the federal courthouse to support Roe and castigate Collins before marching downtown.
“We will never give up fighting so that abortion is still legal in this state. Abortion is health care and abortion is a right,” said Meagan Sway, policy director of the ACLU of Maine.
A chanting crowd held signs that read, “Together, we fight for all,” “We told you so, Susan,” “My right, my decision,” and “Abortion doesn’t go away when you ban it. Safe abortion does.”
One speaker, Sara Gilfenbaum, said that she and a Planned Parenthood delegation met with Collins in summer 2018 to discuss their concerns about Kavanaugh, and that each member had a personal story to share with the senator.
Gilfenbaum said she recounted how she had obtained an abortion in a doctor’s office after an unwanted pregnancy following her husband’s failed vasectomy.
“My last words to Susan Collins were, ‘We can’t go back,’ ” Gilfenbaum said. The senator’s “last words to our group were, ‘Brett Kavanaugh has assured me that Roe v. Wade is law.’ ”
Earlier Tuesday, Hannah Allen was leaving the downtown office of Planned Parenthood and called the draft opinion “really disappointing.”
“Whether or not abortion access is made to be completely illegal, it’ll still happen,” Allen said, adding, “I still have hope for some miracle” that the draft ruling does not become law.
But if it does, she added, Collins “definitely bears the weight. She’s failed us before.”
Even visitors to Maine had an opinion about Collins and the leaked draft. Geoff and Julie Coleman, a Pittsburgh couple who have visited Camden for decades, expressed dismay as they relaxed in Post Office Plaza in Portland.
“It’s pretty scary,” Geoff Coleman said of the court’s draft opinion. Although he commended Collins for “consistently supporting a president’s right to appoint a Supreme Court justice,” including the recently confirmed Jackson, he balanced that view with disappointment.
“Kavanaugh, that’s when she let us down,” he said.