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Politics & Policy

Susan Collins: Congressional Democrats’ Abortion Bill Is Too ‘Extreme’

Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Susan Collins on Capitol Hill, January 2018. (Leah Mills/Reuters)

House Democrats will vote tomorrow on the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would invalidate almost all state abortion laws and regulations and enshrine in federal law a nearly unlimited right to abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.  

But Susan Collins of Maine, one of two Republicans in the Senate who supports an expansive right to abortion, says that congressional Democrats’ bill to codify Roe v. Wade in federal law goes too far even for her.

The LA Times reports:

Democrats, led by bill author Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, say their legislation would codify the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.n a brief interview, Collins said the bill goes further than that by interfering with existing law that ensures health professionals who object to abortion are not required to participate in it.

But in a brief interview, Collins said the bill goes further than that by interfering with existing law that ensures health professionals who object to abortion are not required to participate in it.

“I support codifying Roe. Unfortunately the bill … goes way beyond that. It would severely weaken the [conscience]  exceptions that are in the current law,” Collins said, adding that she found parts of the bill’s language “extreme.”

Collins said the bill would weaken the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects a person’s ability to exercise their religion. She cited the past support for the act by Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and President Biden when he was in the Senate.

“This ‘carve out’ would be unprecedented, and I do not believe it is necessary to codify Roe,” she said in a follow-up statement.

The LA Times describes the bill as enshrining a right to abortion “through fetal viability,” but the bill also requires all 50 states to allow abortion after viability if a single doctor says the “continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health,” including mental health:

[The Women’s Health Protection Act] would also invalidate most state laws limiting late-term abortion, including Pennsylvania’s 24-week limit, under which notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted in 2013 for killing 21 infants in utero (in addition to his conviction for murdering three infants with scissors after they had been born). Indeed, it would wipe almost all state limits on abortion, including mandatory waiting period and ultrasound requirements, off the books.

Essentially, congressional Democrats seek to take the standard for late-term abortion proposed earlier this year in Virginia — and shelved after the bill’s chief sponsor Kathy Tran acknowledged it would allow abortion through all nine months of pregnancy if a lone doctor asserted it was necessary for mental-health reasons — and impose it on every state that provides greater protection for unborn children late in pregnancy.

The federal legislation would require states to permit abortion after an unborn child is viable (that is, old enough to survive outside the womb) if a single doctor asserts that an abortion is necessary to protect the mother’s “health.” The text of the bill explicitly instructs the courts to “liberally” interpret the legislation, and the bill “doesn’t distinguish” between physical and mental health, as its chief sponsor Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut has said.

In 2020, Collins and Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted against the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which generally prohibits abortions later than 20 weeks after conception, while Democratic senators Bob Casey Jr, of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted for it. Without Collins’s support, it is hard to see how there would be a majority of the Senate in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act.

If Democrats want to enact their federal abortion bill, they’ll need to hold the House, pick up a couple seats in the Senate in 2022, and abolish the filibuster in 2023.

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