Susan Collins recognizes that the Texas law banning abortion after the first six weeks of a pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest, is “extreme.” The senior senator from Maine admits that the US Supreme Court’s refusal to strike down the law—which encourages bounty hunters to sue anyone who helps a pregnant person to exercise control over their body for $10,000—is “harmful.” On Thursday, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas, challenging the law’s constitutionality.
Yet Collins has so far failed to acknowledge that her advocacy for former President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the court cleared the way for this new avenue of assault on reproductive rights. And, while she now says she’s supportive of legislative efforts to address the threat to abortion rights, her loyalty to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell makes it highly unlikely that Collins will support overturning the Senate filibuster in order to codify federal protections for the right to choose.
In other words, the senator’s criticism of the court ruling rings hollow—so hollow that commentator Jennifer Rubin referred to the senator’s statement as “an appalling insult to our intelligence.” Mainers who support reproductive rights are cutting the senator no slack at this point, and neither should anyone else.
“Remember when Susan Collins said she was convinced that Brett Kavanaugh believed a woman’s right to choose was ‘settled law?’” noted novelist Stephen King, one of Maine’s most prominent citizens. “She was wrong. Women in Texas must pay the price for her gullibility.”
In the fall of 2018, Collins was in a position to prevent the appointment of Trump’s most controversial nominee on the court. Instead, she provided essential cover for Kavanaugh—assuring her fellow senators and people across the country that the former Bush administration aide would not work to undermine, let alone overturn, the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In so doing, as Rubin explains, Collins “did more to destroy reproductive rights than any single senator.”
As one of the few remaining self-proclaimed supporters of a pregnant person’s right to choose in the congressional caucuses of the Republican Party, Collins was identified as a critical swing vote on the Kavanaugh nomination. She met with the nominee for two hours and emerged as Kavanaugh’s most important defender. Collins vouched for the nominee, even after California college professor Christine Blasey Ford testified that Kavanaugh had assaulted her when they were high school students.
“We talked about whether he considered Roe to be settled law,” Collins announced after her meeting with Kavanaugh. “He said that he agreed with what Justice Roberts said at his nomination hearing, in which he said that it was settled law.”
Critics argued at the time that Collins was being naïve, or cynical, or perhaps both, with regard to Kavanaugh, whose record as a social-conservative was well established. But her pronouncement shored up support for the nominee at a point when at least some Republicans—along with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin—were wavering on whether to vote to confirm Kavanaugh. In the end, Manchin joined Collins and every Republican except Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski in backing the 50-48 vote to put Trump’s nominee on the high court.
Despite Collins’s assurances, Kavanaugh did not respect Roe’s precedent.
Last week, Collins tried to cover for herself with a mendacious statement. “I’ve cast votes on seven of the nine justices on the Supreme Court. Of those I’ve voted to confirm, three voted with the majority and three voted with the minority,” she said. The senator noted that she voted against confirming Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the majority in the Texas case. But the one she might well have stopped was Brett Kavanaugh.
“These are Susan Collins’s judges and therefore her legacy; she will forever be the U.S. Senator who deliberately misled a nation and her constituents in a 43-minute self-righteous Senate floor speech where she asserted that she believed Brett M. Kavanaugh’s commitment to settled law and condemned the advocacy of scared and committed constituents,” says Marie Follayttar, the director and cofounder of Mainers for Accountable Leadership.
No matter how she covers her tracks now, no matter what she says about the extremism of the Texas decision, Collins cannot be allowed to casually escape responsibility for her actions. With her defenses of Kavanaugh and her critical vote to confirm him, says Follayttar, the senator “led us to the point where our bodily autonomy and foundational rights are at risk and where pregnant Texans risk a gun toting bounty hunter coming after them and their families for having an abortion.”