Representative Lizzie Fletcher leads efforts to protect abortion travel

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade earlier this month sparked uncertainty in states where old abortion statutes, some dating back a century or more, remain on the books.

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Some Texas GOP lawmakers contend those old laws β€” revived by the Roe decision β€” already do more than just ban abortions in the state, with clauses barring anyone from “furnishing” abortions as well, which they argue that prohibits businesses or advocacy groups from covering a patient. travel expenses.

Many groups that helped Texans travel out of state for abortions since the state’s six-week abortion ban took effect in September 2021 have halted their operations to review the decision and its impact.

The Securing Access to Abortion Act, authorized by Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat, would make clear that the freedom to travel to other states is a constitutional right and would prohibit states from restricting travel for those seeking to obtain legal representation. abortion.

“It’s really important to do this now, as we see people and this conversation moving toward restricting American citizens from traveling between states,” Fletcher said in an interview with Hearst Newspapers.

The legislation would also bar states from barring businesses or groups from helping with that travel, something some Texas Republicans have argued state law already does after dozens of companies have offered to cover travel costs for their employees. in Texas who need abortions.

It’s a key part of Democrats’ response to last month’s Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, and is one of two abortion bills that House Democrats have voted on this week as Republicans prepare to push for restrictions. further abortion in the states.

While the bill is almost certain to pass the Democratic-controlled House, it is unclear whether it would go anywhere in the evenly divided Senate, where Republicans have blocked efforts to codify abortion access.

Threats from the right

Meanwhile, Texas Republicans have targeted businesses that help fund employees’ travel to other states to seek abortions. Corporations including Tesla, Apple and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have said they will cover expenses for employees to travel for abortions.

The Texas Freedom Caucus last week sent a letter to Dallas law firm Sidley Austin LLP saying the firm was “exposing itself and each of its partners to criminal prosecution and disbarment” for reimbursing travel costs for employees who “leave Texas to kill their unborn children. .”

It’s not clear why the group thinks Texas can enforce a law that limits constitutionally protected travel rights. The Chairman of the Freedom Group, Rep. Mayes Middleton, of Wallisville, did not respond to a request for comment.

The letter pointed to a 1925 state law that prohibits “furnishing the means” of an abortion. The state Supreme Court earlier this month said Texas can enforce the law for now, though the court has not issued a final ruling on it.

The letter said the group also plans to push legislation next session that would bar any employer in Texas from paying for elective abortions or reimbursing abortion-related expenses, regardless of where the abortion occurs.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state’s top law enforcement official, has not yet issued an opinion on whether abortion travel aids are prohibited by the 1925 ban, or by a so-called “trigger law.” which completely bans abortion that will take effect. later this month.

Paxton did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

In court filings in a case defending the state’s six-week abortion ban, Paxton previously pointed to the number of Texans traveling to other states to seek abortions as evidence that the law was “stimulating” interstate commerce.

On the US Supreme Court, at least one justice who voted to overturn Roe said last month’s decision did not give states the green light to restrict travel.

“Some of the other abortion-related legal issues raised by today’s decision are not particularly difficult as a constitutional matter,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in his concurring opinion. β€œFor example, can a state prohibit a resident of that state from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion? In my view, the answer is not based on the constitutional right to interstate travel.”

The bill prohibits interference with travel

Fletcher’s bill reaffirms the right to travel established by the 14th Amendment and would empower the attorney general to bring a civil suit against anyone who violates it. It would also create a cause of action for civil action against those who interfere with interstate travel.

Fletcher said Texas has already served as a case study in the importance of abortion travel, pointing to a University of Texas at Austin study that found the six-week abortion ban the state passed last year forced nearly 1,400 Texans to travel abroad. state for abortion care every month.

“I’m hearing from people on the ground and some providers at home … they said this has become a humanitarian crisis for people here who need access to reproductive health care,” she said. “You’ve reduced the options so much and now you’re threatening the last option people have.”

Fletcher, a former board member at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over interstate commerce.

Fletcher said he hopes some Republicans might support the bill, though none have signed on so far.

“It’s so fundamental that I think it should,” Fletcher said. “I think they should recognize that if, as we’ve heard for years, that this is a decision for the states, the states should not prevent their citizens from exercising their constitutional right to travel.”

The House is also expected to vote again on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify and expand Roe. The House passed the bill last year, but it remains in the Senate, where Democrats would need the support of 10 Republicans to pass it.

“We have a sacred, fundamental duty to expand freedom in America, not to take away fundamental rights,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “As Republicans seek to criminalize reproductive health care across the country, House Democrats will never give up in our fight to protect freedom for women and for every American.”

Taylor Goldenstein contributed reporting from Austin.

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