Senate GOP split on abortion care travel restriction

As the debate over abortion access plays out across the country, Senate Republicans appear divided on whether to protect travel across state lines to seek reproductive care — and whether individuals or health care providers should be held criminally liable for doing so. .


What you need to know

  • As the debate over abortion access rages across the country, Senate Republicans appear divided on the issue of protecting travel across state lines to seek reproductive care
  • A heated clash between Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., highlighted ongoing tensions in Congress over the issue.
  • Lankford on Thursday blocked unanimous approval of legislation introduced by Cortez Masto to protect the rights of Americans who travel between states to seek abortion care.
  • Other Republicans took a different approach, with at least two senators saying the travel restriction would unconstitutionally limit Americans’ freedoms.

A bitter clash between Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., on Thursday underscored ongoing tensions in Congress over the issue, when the GOP lawmaker blocked unanimous passage on the legislation. introduced by Cortez Masto to protect the rights of Americans who travel between states to seek abortion care.

“The conversation today is not only about women. There are two people in this conversation,” Lankford said Thursday on the Senate floor. “This is also a child in this conversation.”

“No state has banned interstate travel for adult women seeking an abortion. This seems to be just trying to inflame, raise what-ifs,” he added.

The Oklahoma Republican’s comments — specifically his use of the word “adult” — took aim at a highly publicized case in which a 10-year-old Ohio girl was forced to travel to Indiana for an abortion after being raped.

While it’s true that no country has yet imposed a travel ban on abortions, some questions are already being raised. Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita on Thursday threatened to pursue action against Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the doctor who performed the abortion. Rokita said his office was investigating whether Bernard was in compliance with state law requiring her to report both the abuse allegations and the termination of the pregnancy.

“Failure to do so constitutes a felony in Indiana and her conduct may also affect her licensure,” Rokita wrote. “Additionally, if a HIPAA breach has occurred, this may also affect the next steps. I will not relent in seeking the truth.”

Hours later, the Indianapolis Star reported that it had obtained documents proving that Bernard had, in fact, notified the Indiana Department of Health and the Department of Child Services about the procedure and the rape allegations before terminating the pregnancy.

And the issue of travel for abortion-related care is playing out in other ways across state lines, with some facilities — including Planned Parenthood of Montana — saying they won’t provide abortion drugs to out-of-state patients for fear of lawsuits in the future.

However, Lankford’s opposition means the Freedom to Travel Health Care Act of 2022 will have to go through a longer process before reaching a vote, though it’s unlikely Democrats will be able to win the necessary Republican votes to pass the filibuster.

A number of GOP lawmakers agreed with Lankford’s stance — including Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, who told Politico that the travel bill was just for show.

“How are you going to stop someone from traveling (for an abortion)?” he said. “This is nonsense. And they know it’s stupid, but they’re just trying to fool the American people into thinking they’re doing something important.”

Sen. Mike Rounds, RS.D., a staunchly anti-abortion lawmaker whose state has one of the most restrictive abortion laws on the books, said he doesn’t think the Senate will ultimately pass legislation to protect travel. interstate. for those seeking abortions, nor does he believe state legislatures would be able to enact such travel restrictions anyway.

“In this particular case, I think once the states have made their decisions, I think you’ll find that most of them will realize that they can’t stop an individual from traveling freely from one state to another,” he told her. NBC News. .

But other Republicans took a different approach, with at least two senators saying the travel restriction would unconstitutionally limit Americans’ freedoms — though they did not explicitly say they supported Cortez Masto’s bill.

On Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters he would not support travel bans on those seeking abortion care, as unrestricted movement is “one of the tenets of freedom in America.”

“We cannot stop people from traveling wherever they want […] It’s a constitutional issue and a freedom issue,” he said, as first reported by the Des Moines Register.

Grassley had a measured response to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Women’s Health Organization Dobbs v. Jackson, where he praised the move to return “abortion policy decisions to the people and their elected representatives,” noted that the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had herself taken issue with the fact that the federal protections for abortion provided in Roe v. Wade focused on the right to privacy, not necessarily on a woman’s right to choose.

“For many Americans, myself included, this decision is about much more than correcting a flawed legal analysis in Roe; it means the rights of the unborn are no longer at risk from our federal government,” Grassley wrote in late June, adding, “This ruling does not stop the practice of abortion, but instead empowers people, through their elected representatives responsible for making sound policy decisions. It takes policymaking out of the hands of unelected judges.”

Grassley has also refused to support a nationwide abortion ban, telling the Journal that his reasoning is “very simple.”

“I’ve been fighting for 50 years to get this back to the states,” he recently told the paper.

Fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told reporters earlier this week, “No state has the right to ban travel,” as reported by NBC News, adding that interstate travel is a constitutional right. guaranteed and recognized by Supreme. Court.

And Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., told NBC News on Wednesday that while he had not read the bill, he generally believed that Americans should not be restricted from interstate travel — even when they need to travel for abortion care.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a Republican who supports abortion rights, would not comment on the specific bill introduced by Sen. Cortez Masto, but told reporters that she supports the rights of Americans to travel for medical procedures.

“I certainly want people to be able to travel freely, just as they can for any medical procedure,” Collins said Thursday to HuffPost. “So I don’t think abortion should be treated differently.”

Also of note is Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion in the Dobbs decision, in which he clearly wrote that travel bans on individuals seeking abortion care would be unconstitutional.

“Can a state prohibit a resident of that state from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion?” Kavanaugh wrote in part, responding: “In my view, the answer is not based on the constitutional right to interstate travel.”

This view was supported by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who wrote that “women who reside in states that have prohibited access to comprehensive reproductive care should remain free to seek that care in states where it is legal,” which would says the Justice Department would likely act quickly against a state that tried to impose such restrictions.

But that hasn’t stopped some lawmakers from proposing such laws.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said there is likely to be “a debate” over whether or not her state will implement a travel ban on those seeking abortion care. And even before the Supreme Court’s decision, a Missouri state lawmaker proposed allowing private citizens to sue anyone who helps a resident get an abortion, including those who transport the patient across state lines and the doctor out of state. And the Thomas More Society, a conservative legal organization, is drafting similar model legislation for state legislatures, The Washington Post reported.

Ryan Chatelain of Spectrum News contributed reporting for this article.

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