Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Monday said she agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a law that would have reduced access to abortions in Louisiana.
But Collins, who supports abortion rights, also defended two justices whose nominations she had backed, saying their position in the case did not suggest their support for overturning the landmark abortion rights precedent Roe v. Wade.
“Some have tried to suggest that this opinion is an indication of how certain justices would vote on the question of whether abortion will remain legal. That is reading too much into this specific decision,” Collins said in the statement.
The court ruled 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the court’s liberal justices. The case was the court’s first major abortion rights case since President Donald Trump appointed two conservative justices ― Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh ― shifting the court to the right.
June Medical Services v. Russo concerned a Louisiana law that required doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The court struck down a virtually identical Texas law in 2016.
In the majority opinion, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that the law “would drastically reduce the number and geographic distribution of abortion providers, making it impossible for many women to obtain a safe, legal abortion.”
Although Kavanaugh avoided weighing in on the merits of abortion rights or prior decisions in his dissent, he voted with the minority to let the law stand, saying more facts were needed to assess its effect on abortion access.
In her statement, Collins sought to draw a distinction between the Louisiana law and abortion rights precedents, noting Kavanaugh “gave no indication in his dissenting opinion that he supports overturning Roe.”
Collins’ vote was pivotal to Kavanaugh’s confirmation in 2018. The senator has repeatedly said she believed the judge would respect legal precedent and not overturn Roe. She has been more ambivalent about cases like June Medical Services, however, which concern state laws limiting access to abortion.
Collins similarly defended Kavanaugh for voting to let stand Louisiana’s abortion law during an initial challenge in 2019, saying, “I don’t understand how this is being viewed as somehow overturning Roe v. Wade except by people on the far left who are looking for anything.”
Progressive advocacy and abortion rights groups, however, maintain that Kavanaugh’s dissent ― literally in favor of a law limiting access to abortions ― is only more indication he supports curtailing abortion rights.
They say that simply because Kavanaugh didn’t explicitly state his desire for overturning Roe, as Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his own dissenting opinion, doesn’t mean he wouldn’t ultimately join a conservative majority in wiping it out in the future. And they note Kavanaugh voted to overturn a key precedent on abortion rights in a nearly identical case just four years ago.
“Susan Collins likes to pretend she cares about protecting reproductive freedom, but she made her true colors known when she cast the deciding vote to put extreme ideologue Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court,” Ilyse Hogue, president of the advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement on Monday. “Women in Maine and across the country see right through her deception and recognize her attacks on our fundamental freedoms.”
Collins faces a tough reelection fight this year. Her Democratic opponent, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, immediately tied Monday’s Supreme Court abortion decision to Collins’ support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“Do you still think Brett Kavanaugh believes Roe v. Wade is settled law, @SenSusanCollins?” Gideon tweeted.