Susan Collins Defends Brett Kavanaugh's Abortion Vote

WASHINGTON ― Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) defended her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday despite his vote in favor of an anti-abortion law in Louisiana last week.

Kavanaugh joined three other conservative justices in dissenting to a Supreme Court order that blocked an anti-abortion Louisiana law from going into effect; the law required doctors performing abortions to have the authority to admit patients to nearby hospitals.

Opponents of that requirement say that it would have dramaticaly reduced eligible doctors, leaving the state just one physician to perform abortions. The law is virtually identical to a Texas anti-abortion law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016 with the help of former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was succeeded by Kavanaugh last year. 

Progressive advocacy groups are furious that Collins, who says she supports abortion rights, voted in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. They say his decision to greenlight a law that would limit access to abortion only confirms their fears that he presents a long-term threat to Roe v. Wade, the major abortion rights precedent. Over the weekend, advocacy group Demand Justice aired digital ads in Maine slamming Collins for her Kavanaugh support.

Collins insisted on Tuesday that Kavanaugh won’t overturn Roe despite his anti-abortion vote last week, however. The senator argued that the justice took a “logical approach” in his dissent to the case and said she did not believe he contradicted precedents established by Roe and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which held that states can’t place undue burdens on women seeking an abortion.

“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,” Collins told HuffPost on Tuesday.

In his dissent to the order, which he wrote separately from the other conservatives on the court, Kavanaugh argued the issue hinged on whether the doctors who perform abortions at the state’s clinics can obtain admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they provide abortion care. Abortion providers in the state said that the Louisiana law would severely curtail admitting privileges to the point where many clinics would be forced to close forever. Kavanaugh, however, argued that the state had sufficient time to resolve the matter of admitting privileges before the law took effect. If the doctors cannot obtain admitting privileges, he added, they can return to court. 

“What he is simply saying is that if during that period of time the physicians do not get their privileges, they can come back to the court without prejudice. I think that was a logical approach, and he committed to following the precedent that was established in Whole Woman’s Health,” Collins added.

She has proven time and time again that she is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and not the millions of women who are asking her to give us the benefit of the doubt.

But pro-choice advocates aren’t letting Collins off the hook for her vote to confirm Kavanaugh. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called Collins’ defense of his vote “absurd. She said that requiring doctors to hold admitting privileges in local hospitals was already ruled as an undue burden by the Supreme Court in the Whole Woman’s Health decision.

“She has proven time and time again that she is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and not the millions of women who are asking her to give us the benefit of the doubt,” Hogue told HuffPost on Tuesday, adding that Collins’ continued support of Kavanaugh goes “against all logic based on what we’re seeing” about the justice’s rulings on the court. 

While Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four more liberal justices in blocking the Louisiana law from going into effect, it’s probably not the final say the court will get on the matter. According to SCOTUSblog, the petitioners in the case are likely to seek further review, leading to possible oral arguments in the fall of 2019 or winter of 2020, with a decision that could come by the end of June 2020 ― smack dab in the middle of the presidential campaign.

Collins also faces a heated re-election fight in 2020. While her standing with Republican voters in Maine improved in the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation fight, she’s likely to face a strong challenge in the general election.

GOP senators who supported Kavanaugh will have to answer for their vote in coming months, Hogue said on Tuesday, adding that voters view threats to abortion as “increasingly real and material.”

“I think they will pay for it,” she said.

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