Sen. Susan Collins, a rare GOP supporter of abortion rights who is under scrutiny for her key role in confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court amid fears that Roe v. Wade may soon be overturned, signaled to reporters on Thursday that she would oppose a bill that Democrats plan to bring to the Senate floor next week to codify abortion rights.
The bill, known as the the Women’s Health Protection Act, is on track to fail in the Senate with or without support from the Maine Republican, but the swing vote senator’s likely opposition underscores how difficult it is to reach bipartisan consensus on the contentious issue of abortion and comes as Democrats face enormous pressure to take action after a Supreme Court draft opinion to strike down Roe v. Wade leaked this week.
Collins voted in support of both Neil Gorsuch’s and Kavanaugh’s confirmations and has previously said Kavanaugh told her he agreed that Roe v. Wade is settled law. The senator said on Tuesday that the draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade was “completely inconsistent” with what Gorsuch and Kavanaugh “said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office.” She did not go so far as to say, though, that she had been misled by Kavanaugh. When asked that question by CNN, she said, “My statement speaks for itself.”
Collins has introduced her own bill with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to codify abortion rights established by Roe v. Wade. Collins argued on Thursday that the measure put forward by Democrats is too broad and raised concerns about the bill not including a so-called conscience clause, which would allow providers to refuse to perform abortions for religious or moral reasons.
“It supersedes all other federal and state laws, including the conscience protections that are in the Affordable Care Act,” said Collins. 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.”
Collins voted against a previous version of the Women’s Health Protection Act in February for similar reasons. The bill she has put forward with Murkowski is narrower, which Democrats such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, an author of the Women’s Health Protection Act, have criticized as having “loopholes” for states to continue restricting abortion.
Blumenthal on Thursday pushed back on Collins’ reasoning about the Democrats’ bill. “There is nothing in this measure that detracts in any way from existing protections based on conscience or religion,” he said. “It doesn’t mandate that a hospital or a doctor or any other provider do anything that is against religious principles or conscience.”
Despite the fact that the measure is expected to fail, Democrats are moving forward with a vote on their bill next week amid renewed pressure from their voters to act. Abortion rights advocates were stunned this week by the bombshell publication by Politico of a draft of a majority Supreme Court opinion that would strike down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide.
The court confirmed the authenticity of the document Tuesday, though it also stressed it was not the final decision.
The problem for Democrats is that they do not have the votes to pass their measure – yet another limitation of their narrow majority in the Senate. The legislation would need at least 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster, which would require 10 Republicans to vote with Democrats if all Democrats voted in favor. That is not expected to happen.
Adding to the trouble for Democrats is that their own caucus is not even unified on the issue. Sen. Joe Manchin, a key moderate Democrat who represents the red state of West Virginia, has previously described himself as “pro-life and proud of it” and “a lifelong abortion opponent.” And Manchin and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania have broken with their party on abortion-related votes in the Senate before.
In February, when Republicans blocked the Women’s Health Protection Act in the Senate, the tally came down to a nearly party-line vote, with Manchin voting with Republicans in opposition.
CNN’s Manu Raju and Ali Zaslav contributed to this report.