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Many Maine people are alarmed by the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion that, if finalized, would erode the nationwide reproductive health protections from the landmark Roe v. Wade case. And understandably so.
“I never thought it would be rolled back in my lifetime,” Susan Burnham of Bethel, who had an abortion in 1979, told the BDN. “I’m not sure whether I’m more furious or insulted.”
Maine’s congressional delegation has raised alarms about the draft opinion, too.
Sen. Susan Collins, one of the last remaining Republican senators to voice support for abortion rights, said that if the draft opinion were to become final, “it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice [Neil] Gorsuch and Justice [Brett] Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office.”
Independent Sen. Angus King called the draft decision a “dangerous, seismic shift” that would override “the most basic, private rights of half the nation.”
1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree said she shares “the feelings of outrage, fear, and utter shock that millions of women across the country are experiencing right now.”
2nd District Rep. Jared Golden, as reported by Maine Public, called the opinion “concerning” and emphasized his support for “the principles established under Roe” while adding that it’s still not clear what the final ruling will be.
That is true, but it is worth remembering that Congress is not powerless here. Federal lawmakers could – and should – move to protect reproductive rights no matter how the court rules.
Clearly, many people across the country feel a sense of helplessness at this alarming, but not unexpected news from the Supreme Court. Members of Congress, at least in theory, are in a position to help.
Even if the court overturns Roe, and precisely because it looks poised to, Congress can and should enshrine its protections into law.
“While we do not yet know the final ruling, Congress must be prepared to take legislative action to enshrine Roe into law,” King said.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has already taken action, passing the Women’s Health Protection Act last September. Pingree and Golden, both Democrats, voted for the bill. In February, opposition from Republicans (including Collins) and one Democrat meant that bill failed to even advance to debate in the Senate.
“By passing the Women’s Health Protection Act, House Democrats stepped up to defend reproductive rights and ensure constitutional rights aren’t limited by income or zip code, but until it passes the Senate, we will be looking to states to stand up for abortion care,” Pingree said.
The Women’s Health Protect Act is not the only vehicle that could bring lawmakers to the needed destination of passing Roe protections into law. Collins and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski have introduced their own bill, the Reproductive Choice Act, to enshrine Roe v. Wade and a later case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld some restrictions on abortion, into federal law. Pro-choice groups have said this bill falls short, and we agree it needs to be strengthened.
As the Senate Democratic majority considers its next moves, however, this bill from Collins and Murkowski should be brought to the floor with the hopes of strengthening it and securing as much support for reproductive protections as possible. Collins told PBS this week that she believes she can get the support of Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democrat who voted against proceeding to the Women’s Health Protection Act.
We continue to believe that the uphill work to craft a passable, durable compromise that protects abortion rights and addresses Republican concerns about religious protections for abortion providers is needed, even if its hopes of reaching the finish line are faint.
With enough expected Republican opposition to prevent any bill codifying Roe from passing the 60-vote filibuster threshold, and with enough Republican and Democratic opposition to prevent changing Senate rules to get rid of a filibuster, any vote on this issue has the potential to be a “show vote” right now. But that doesn’t make it unimportant.
Even against long odds, the Senate should not leave any stone unturned in trying to secure stronger, bipartisan support for enshrining these protections into federal law. This would show that America’s leaders — or at least some of them — are still willing to do the hard work to address complicated issues. And to the many people in Maine and across the country now worried about potentially losing reproductive health protections that have been in place for decades, it would show which of their elected officials are working to protect their rights.