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Let’s get this out of the way: A message written in chalk on the sidewalk, even in front of a U.S. senator’s house, is not defacement of public property. In fact, the Supreme Court championed such expression several years ago.
In the case of the message written in chalk in front of Sen. Susan Collins’ home in Bangor last weekend, the problem isn’t with the method of communication, which was a respectful and peaceful reaction to the leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. Rather, the deficiency is in the message itself.
The original chalk message read: “Susie, please, Mainers want WHPA —–> vote yes, clean up your mess.” The WHPA is the Women’s Health Protection Act, legislation which passed the Democratically controlled U.S. House of Representatives but is stalled in the Senate.
We understand that the future of abortion rights in America looks bleak and we feel the shock, fear and anger that many supporters of legal abortion have shared in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft decision. This naturally leads to a sense of urgency to protect those rights.
However, as we’ve written before, urging Collins to support the Women’s Health Protection Act, in chalk messaging or otherwise, misses some larger points, specifically that, in the face of Republican opposition, the act currently has no chance of becoming law.
An alternative is needed, which is where Collins can play a significant role.
On Wednesday, Collins, along with all her Republican Senate colleagues and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, voted “no” on a motion to begin debate on the WHPA. With a 49-51 vote, the motion fell well short of the 60 votes needed to clear an expected Republican filibuster. A vote on the same legislation also failed in late February.
Collins could have voted to proceed with the WHPA, watched that vote fail and walked away. Many people may have cheered such a vote and thanked her. However, it would not have changed the outcome.
Instead, Collins is working to build support for a bill that has a better – if still slim – chance of passage.
In February, Collins, and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, introduced legislation that would codify the right to abortion into federal law. Their bill would allow some limits on abortion as articulated in the Supreme Court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, which established an “undue burden” standard for such restrictions.
Her bill, the Reproductive Choice Act, as it is currently written, is flawed and has a long way to go to build support. But building a coalition – Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tim Kaine are talking to Collins about the legislation and Manchin said he supported a bill that would simply codify Roe – to write abortion protections into federal law is better than merely supporting a bill that has repeatedly failed in the Senate.
With the recently leaked draft court ruling, we realize that the Women’s Health Protection Act looks like a good way to essentially write Roe’s protection of abortion rights into federal law. To be clear, however, the current version of the bill, which sould supercede state laws on abortion and contains provisions to specifically ban requirements for waiting periods and ultrasounds before an abortion can be performed, is unacceptable to Republicans, which is why pursuing another avenue makes sense.
We, like many others in Maine, are frustrated by the political reality in Washington. Unfortunately, the only choice at the moment is to work within that reality, which means trying to find a way to protect the broadly supported right to abortion in a way that can win enough Republican votes to make it a reality.
That is no easy task but working on a new compromise seems to be the best way forward.