Senator Susan Collins, who has come under fire in recent days over her previous Supreme Court confirmation votes amid the revelation that Roe v. Wade may be overturned, voiced opposition Thursday to a Democratic measure that would codify abortion rights into federal law.
The Maine Republican is one of the most notable supporters of abortion rights in her party, but she argued that the legislation the Senate is planning to vote on next week — coined the Women’s Health Protection Act — fails to protect antiabortion providers from having to perform the procedure.
“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. She had been asked at the time whether she is in favor of the bill authored by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the Washington Post reported.
“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,” she continued.
Collins said earlier this week that the draft opinion to overturn Roe was “completely inconsistent” with what Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, both of whom she voted to confirm to the high court, discussed about abortion “in their hearings and in our meetings in my office.”
But her comments on the legislation — which is likely doomed regardless of Collins’s lack of support given it does not have the 60 votes required to defeat a Republican filibuster — drew pushback and further scrutiny.
“There is nothing in this measure that detracts in any way from existing protections based on conscience or religion,” Blumenthal told CNN. “It doesn’t mandate that a hospital or a doctor or any other provider do anything that is against religious principles or conscience.”
Pressure on Democrats to act — and to do so quickly — has mounted. Polling from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan research institute, demonstrates that support for abortion rights has hovered around 60 percent since 2016. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets nationwide to call for those protections to remain intact.
“Some are saying that this legislation would tell hospitals, certain religious hospitals, that they have to perform abortions. That is simply not true,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said during a news conference on Thursday about the procedural vote. He did not name Collins specifically, but spoke alongside other Democrats, including Blumenthal and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
“This bill simply gives providers the statutory right to provide abortion care without medically unnecessary restrictions,” he added. “That’s plain and simple. So this rumor is false.”
Along with Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — a moderate Republican Senator fighting to be reelected this year — Collins voted against a previous version of the Women’s Health Protection Act in February. She expressed similar concerns about the effect it would have on “health care providers who have religious objections to performing abortions.”
In its place, the pair introduced the Reproductive Choice Act — a far more narrow version of the bill proposed by Democrats. It has been viewed with skepticism by those including Blumenthal, who told the Independent on Thursday that the measure has “too many gaps and loopholes.”
When asked by a reporter why he would “not choose” the Collins-Murkowski bill, Schumer said it does not go far enough, adding that “we’re not cutting back, we’re not compromising.”
“This is about a woman’s right to choose — fully. We are not looking to compromise something as vital as this,” he said. “People should show where they stand. This has been American law for 50 years. And this idea that, ‘Oh, do a little of this, a little of that.’ Forget it.”
Marie Follayttar, the executive director of the grass-roots organization Mainers for Accountable Leadership, which first attracted national attention in 2018 with its campaign aimed at persuading Collins to vote against confirming Kavanaugh — said the senator is “misrepresenting the bill to codify Roe.”
“It’s utterly nonsense for Senator Collins to not make every effort to codify our right to an abortion. She’s either pro-choice or she isn’t and this is her only chance to prove it,” Follayttar said late Thursday night. “If she believes she was lied to [by Kavanaugh and Gorsuch] then she must lead the charge calling for their immediate impeachment. She cannot continue to let public trust in our justice system erode.”