A woman holds a blue sign that reads "abortion is health care"
Demonstrators protest outside the federal courthouse in Portland on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, against an anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe Vs, Wade. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Maine’s senators spoke forcefully on Tuesday against a draft U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that protects abortion as a constitutional right, but neither immediately backed nuking the 60-vote filibuster threshold to do it.

If the court reverses the 1973 decision in the next few months, abortion could be soon made illegal in roughly half of U.S. states, although it will remain legal in Maine for now. A legislative path to protect abortion rights at the federal level remained elusive on Tuesday.

Senate Democrats and Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican at the center of abortion debate, back rivaling bills to codify Roe’s protections in federal law that are on track to fail unless supporters agree to end the filibuster to pass them. Collins and key Democrats indicated on Tuesday that it is likely to remain in place.

Politico reported late Monday evening that a draft decision from Justice Samuel Alito in a case concerning a Mississipi abortion law would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. The high court verified the document’s authenticity on Tuesday but said it did not represent a final opinion.

Collins, one of the few members of her party to indicate support for abortion rights, said on Tuesday that the draft decision was inconsistent with assurances she had received from conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh about their opinions on Roe v. Wade. The Maine Republican previously predicted that the high court would not overturn the decision. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, characterized the draft as a “dangerous, seismic shift.”

The draft opinion, which would leave the question of abortion entirely up to the states, leaves room for Congress to pass a law protecting abortion nationwide. Democratic-led legislation aiming to enshrine a federal right to an abortion passed the House last fall, with Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree voting in favor.

But the Senate declined to open debate on the bill, known as the Women’s Health Protection Action, with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, joining Collins and other Republicans in voting against it.

Collins told PBS on Tuesday that she thought Manchin might back a narrower bill that protecting abortion rights at the federal level that she and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced earlier this year. But that bill would lack a path forward in the Senate unless at least 10 total Republicans got behind it or if lawmakers were willing to ditch the filibuster.

Several top Democrats called upon senators to abolish the 60-vote threshold in order to deliver on a bill enshrining abortion rights. Such legislation could overrule state laws restricting abortion access and protection abortion rights in the short term, although it could face legal challenges of its own in front of the conservative majority of the Supreme Court.

The Maine Republican has been a strident defender of the filibuster. She delivered a speech earlier this year saying that changing the rules to remove it “would irreparably harm the Senate and thus our country.” A spokesperson for Collins confirmed on Tuesday that her stance on the filibuster was unchanged. Two Democratic senators, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, similarly indicated continued opposition to changing the filibuster on Tuesday.

King warned on Tuesday that the potential ruling would effectively override “the most basic, private rights of half the nation.”

“​​While we do not yet know the final ruling, Congress must be prepared to take legislative action to enshrine Roe into law,” he said.

A spokesperson for King noted he had voted for the Women’s Health Protection Act, but indicated next steps on the issue were unclear, saying the independent senator planned to confer with his colleagues in the coming days. His office declined to specifically address the role of the filibuster. King has generally been a skeptic of changing the filibuster rules, although he said last year that he would consider reforms to enact voting rights legislation.

Reproductive rights advocates in Maine indicated skepticism of the potential for congressional action on Tuesday. Nicole Clegg, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, noted the failure of the Women’s Health Protection Act in the Senate earlier this year.

Unless the Senate is now willing to act on the issue, Clegg said, federal legislation is “not going to happen.”

BDN writer Caitlin Andrews contributed to this report.

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