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If Sen. Susan Collins is angry about Texas’ new law effectively banning abortion, she should talk to one of the people who helped make it possible: Sen. Susan Collins.
The Maine Republican said at a Saturday event (unrelated to this weekend’s iteration of the Women’s March) that Texas’ new law banning abortion after six weeks and allowing people to sue providers and others who assist abortions was “extreme, inhumane, and unconstitutional,” according to the Associated Press. Collins also said she’s working on a “bipartisan” bill to codify Roe v. Wade as “the law of the land.”
But as a moderate Republican often seen as a swing vote on social issues, Collins is partially responsible for the precarious position that abortion access is in right now. That’s because, despite her insistence that she wouldn’t vote for judges who showed “hostility” to Roe v. Wade, her vote helped to put on the Supreme Court two anti-abortion justices who voted last month to not block Texas’ new law from being enforced.
In 2017, after Neil Gorsuch was nominated to fill the long-vacant seat formerly held by Antonin Scalia—which the GOP-led Senate kept open for more than a year after declining to grant a hearing to former President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland—Collins joined all of her fellow Republicans and three Democrats in putting Gorsuch on the bench.
Gorsuch had never heard an abortion case, and he evaded the question during his confirmation hearing, but he wrote a book opposing assisted suicide and was widely expected to be an anti-choice vote on the court. Still, Collins supported him, saying that although she didn’t agree with all of Gorsuch’s decisions she considered him “eminently well-qualified to serve on our nation’s highest court.”
A year later, Collins played her most pivotal role by confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. After meeting with Kavanaugh, a former Bush White House staffer, in August 2018, Collins said she was convinced that Kavanaugh believed “Roe is settled precedent and entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis.”
The only abortion case Kavanaugh heard while an appellate judge concerned an undocumented minor whose abortion was being delayed by the federal government. In a dissent, Kavanaugh wrote that “many precedents hold that the Government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion,” and that the delay did not impose an “undue burden” on the patient.
After Christine Blasey Ford testified before Congress that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers, Collins said she didn’t believe that Kavanaugh was responsible for Blasey Ford’s assault. “I do not believe that Brett Kavanaugh was her assailant,” Collins told CNN. “I do believe she was assaulted. I don’t know by whom. And I’m not certain when.”
In announcing her intent to confirm Kavanaugh—a mostly party-line vote—Collins said the confirmation process “has become so dysfunctional it looks more like a caricature of a gutter-level political campaign than a solemn occasion.” She also reiterated that Kavanaugh had told her that he believed Roe v. Wade was precedent.
The one Trump nominee Collins didn’t vote for was Amy Coney Barrett. During her confirmation to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barrett—a conservative Catholic who had once referred to abortion as “always immoral”—said she did not view Roe v. Wade as a “super-precedent,” or settled law that is overwhelmingly agreed upon, such as Brown v. Board of Education.
But in a statement announcing her intention to vote against Barrett, Collins indicated she was doing so more as a matter of process than legitimate concerns about Barrett’s positions. “Because this vote is occurring prior to the election, I will vote against the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett,” Collins said, before adding that her vote “does not reflect any conclusion that I have reached about Judge Barrett’s qualifications to serve on the Supreme Court.”
Barrett, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh all joined Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito—the latter of whom Collins also voted for when he was confirmed to the court in January 2006—in voting to allow Texas to proceed with the law while the broader legal battle moves through the courts.
“The applicants now before us have raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law at issue,” the unsigned opinion said. “But their application also presents complex and novel procedural questions on which they have not carried their burden.”
Questioned over her support for Kavanaugh last month, Collins defended her vote. “People ought to read what the decision actually said,” she told reporters. “It said there’s serious constitutional and procedural issues which clearly the court is going to take up. I think we need to wait and see what happens.”
If Roe v. Wade is ultimately struck down through either the Texas law or another challenge, from Mississippi, that the Supreme Court will hear in December, nearly two dozen states have laws on the books that would immediately eliminate or severely restrict abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Collins has said she opposes the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill introduced by Democrats to codify Roe into law.
Following the Supreme Court’s move, the Justice Department sued to stop the law from being enforced, calling it a “scheme of vigilante justice” and an “open threat to the rule of law.” On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman heard the injunction request and said the “whole statute was designed” to circumvent judicial oversight.
“If the state is so confident in the constitutionality of the limitations on a woman’s access to abortion, then why did it go to such great lengths to create this private cause of action rather than do it directly?” Pitman asked.