Texas law puts Susan Collins back in the spotlight on abortion rights

Although she supports the codification of Roe v. Wade, Collins does not support the Democrats’ Women’s Health Protection Act, but instead tries to craft her own bill to achieve the same goal. And while she publicly criticized the Texas law last weekend as being “extreme, inhuman and unconstitutional” and opposed the court’s decision not to block it, Collins said she did not regret. not his vote for Kavanaugh, noting that the court had yet to rule on the constitutionality of the law.

“Why don’t you ask me if I regret having voted for [Justice] Elena Kagan, for whom I voted, or Sonia Sotomayor, for whom I voted, or John Roberts, for whom I voted? she told The Globe this week.

“I voted for three of the judges who voted to suspend the law and I voted for the judges who voted not to suspend the law and I voted against a judge who voted to have the law not be suspended, ”she said. “If you read the notice. . . he said the Texas law raises serious constitutional questions. It is not finished yet.

Collins’ latest maneuvers frustrate abortion rights groups and Democrats, who failed to defeat her in her re-election bid last year despite fury on the left over her deciding vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

“There’s all that kind of fancy footwork on her part to try and pretend to be pro-choice while doing absolutely nothing to materialize her so-called commitment to reproductive rights,” said Kristin Ford, vice president of Interim Communications and Research at NARAL Pro. -Choice America.

Texas law and pending Supreme Court rulings ensure abortion will be a major issue in the 2022 election, she said. “Voters understand more and more how much is at stake here,” Ford said. “And as abortion is pushed further or totally out of reach in several states, the stakes will only continue to rise.”

(Late Wednesday, a federal judge blocked law enforcement in Texas, ruling on a request by the Biden administration to let court challenges to the law unfold first.)

Neither Bill Roe v. Wade of the Democrats or any other bill Collins is crafting is likely to get the 60 votes needed to overcome an expected Republican obstruction and move through the Senate. While abortion rights supporters are pushing for a filibuster exemption for the bill, it is also unlikely.

And while Collins easily pushed back a Democratic challenge in 2020 and is not re-elected until 2026, the renewed focus on abortion could cause political headaches for the fifth-term senator, said Professor Mark D. Brewer. of political science at the University of Maine.

“The biggest problem for Collins. . . is that it reminds people of his vote to confirm Kavanaugh, ”he said. “The more the party moves to the right at the national level, the greater the complication that presents itself for it.”

Kavanaugh’s confirmation gave the court a stronger Conservative 5-4 majority, which expanded to 6-3 when the Senate last year confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to replace Liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Collins was the only Republican to vote against Barrett.

Collins said his opposition was not based on Barrett’s record, but simply because it was inconsistent to confirm it shortly before the 2020 election, when the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider the issue. nomination of Merrick Garland by President Barack Obama in 2016 because it was a presidential election year. .

The additions by Kavanaugh and Barrett fueled fears among abortion rights supporters that the court would overturn Roe v. Wade. The decision not to stop Texas law has exaggerated those fears.

Called the Texas Heart Beat Act, the law prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs around six weeks and before many women know they are pregnant. The law came into effect on September 1 and the Supreme Court voted 5-4 not to grant a stay.

The majority of the court, which included Kavanaugh and Barrett, agreed that there were “serious questions regarding the constitutionality of Texas law.” But they decided not to grant a stay because of the law’s unique approach by banning state officials from enforcing it in favor of delegating private citizens to prosecute anyone involved in an abortion, to except the patient. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s three Liberals in saying they would have blocked the law from coming into force while court challenges unfold in the system.

Following the Texas ruling and as the Supreme Court was due to hear arguments in December on a restrictive Mississippi abortion law, Democrats passed the Women’s Health Protection Act through the House on September 24. Every Republican in the House as well as a Democrat opposed it. . Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, sponsored an identical Senate bill that is co-sponsored by all but two Democratic caucus members – and no Republican.

Collins said she was concerned about the Democrats’ bill and that she was crafting her own that would codify the right to abortion in Roe v. Wade and reaffirmed by the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

“My bill is a simple codification of the principles of the Roe and Casey decisions,” Collins said. “It preserves the long-established ability of health care providers who have moral or religious objections to perform abortions. The House bill and the Blumenthal bill, which is the same in the Senate, do not. “

A spokeswoman for Collins said the wording of the Democratic bill “calls into question fundamental protections of conscience” in federal laws, including the 1993 Restoration of Religious Freedom Act.

Collins said she was working on her bill with two Democrats and a Republican, neither of whom she named. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who also supports abortion rights, said she had had discussions with Collins over a bill codifying Roe v. Wade and said she shared some of the concerns about Democratic legislation.

But Ford said those concerns were unfounded.

“The Women’s Health Protection Act neither obliges nor obliges providers to provide abortion care. All it does is enable providers to provide abortion care, ”she said. “Senator Collins once again engages in smoke and mirror tactics to try to obscure the fact that she consistently refuses to stand up for reproductive freedom.”

Blumenthal said he had heard rumors about Collins’ concerns about the bill and was “more than happy to consider any constructive suggestions.” But he said it was “utter nonsense” to say that the law would require healthcare providers to perform procedures they oppose for religious or personal reasons.

“I think we have a pretty good bill,” he said, “and I think people who are really pro-choice will support him.

Jim Puzzanghera can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera.

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