GOP Sen. James Lankford Blocks Bill Protecting Right To Interstate Travel For Abortion

Republicans claimed the bill, which is aimed at blocking state legislative efforts preventing travel for out-of-state abortions, would lead to "abortion tourism."

Democratic legislation that would protect the right to travel freely from state to state to seek abortion care was blocked in the Senate on Thursday by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).

Lankford, who supports instituting a national ban on abortion, dismissed it as unnecessary and objected to a unanimous consent request from Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).

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

The Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act, introduced by Cortez Masto and other Democrats earlier this week, would clarify the right to cross state lines to obtain reproductive health care services. It would also empower the U.S. attorney general and affected individuals to bring civil lawsuits against anyone who attempts to restrict that right.

In his concurrence to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which reversed the 50-year precedent that established a national right to an abortion, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sought to downplay the impact of the ruling in states where abortion is now illegal, writing that the “constitutional right to interstate travel” would enable women to “travel to another state to obtain an abortion.”

But like the word “abortion,” the U.S. Constitution doesn’t explicitly mention the word “travel.” It is an enumerated right established under the First, Fifth, and 14th Amendments. Kavanaugh also appears to be alone on this front. No other justice in the Dobbs majority joined his concurrence.

Sen. James Lankford blocked a bill Thursday that would protect the right to travel freely from state to state to seek abortion care.
Sen. James Lankford blocked a bill Thursday that would protect the right to travel freely from state to state to seek abortion care.
Tom Williams via Getty Images

Democrats and reproductive rights groups fear that Republican-controlled states will exploit this gap and move to restrict travel and criminalize cross-state travel to seek abortion care. Anti-abortion groups and GOP lawmakers in some states are already signaling that’s where they’d like to go next.

Indiana’s GOP attorney general said on Wednesday that his office planned to investigate the Indiana doctor who helped a 10-year-old rape victim who crossed state lines to have an abortion.

Conservatives have also threatened employers who proceed with plans to cover their employees’ travel expenses for out-of-state abortions ― either with criminal liability or by moving to strip their tax breaks. Dozens of major companies, including Amazon, Disney, Apple and JPMorgan, have committed to do so.

“It is critical that not only are we protecting women and giving them the right to travel for critical reproductive health care to states like Nevada, we’re also protecting providers as well as those large companies and employers who want to assist women to receive this reproductive care,” Cortez Masto told HuffPost.

But Republicans, who downplayed the threat to Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court struck it down, and who are likely to support a national ban on abortion if it comes before the Senate, say this is all a made-up issue.

“I think it’s a bill that’s in search of a problem,” Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) told HuffPost. “I don’t see any reason or any serious people out there saying that they want to arrest women for having an abortion for crossing state lines.”

“It’s already protected in the Constitution,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Cortez Masto isn’t convinced.

“This is a form of gaslighting to keep insisting that American women will be able to get care when we know that anti-choice legislators and groups are working to stop them from doing so,” the senator said on Thursday.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), meanwhile, claimed the legislation would lead to “abortion tourism” and that it would “protect the greed of woke corporations” who have pledged to cover travel costs of their employees.

Democrats in the House are expected to pass similar legislation on Friday. It’s not clear whether or when Democrats in the Senate will try to pass the bill via a recorded vote, a process that takes more time. Democratic leadership is currently focused on trying to pass a domestic spending bill and a measure to boost the semiconductor industry.

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