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Democrats Introduce Bill to Block State Restrictions on Travel for Abortions

The bill would strengthen the “right to travel freely” in the U.S. in order to access abortion services.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) holds a press conference on abortion rights, alongside Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), outside the U.S. Capitol building on June 15, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Democratic senators have introduced a bill that would bar states with anti-abortion laws from enacting punishments against their residents should they travel to other areas of the country to obtain abortion services.

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision upending abortion rights, several states have instituted anti-abortion laws that restrict when or how individuals can get an abortion within their jurisdictions, many of which effectively ban the procedure entirely. Some states are considering passing additional legislation that would impose fines or other punishments on their residents if they travel across state lines in order to get an abortion in a state where it is still legal to do so.

The “Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act of 2022,” sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) and cosponsored by a number of other Democratic lawmakers in the Senate, would disallow states from imposing such restrictions.

The bill recognizes that the “right to travel freely and voluntarily among the several States is one of the chief privileges and immunities guaranteed to all citizens of the United States…under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause,” according to its text. It also cites the constitutional powers of Congress to regulate commerce, as well as Supreme Court precedent recognizing that a person who travels from one state to another is granted the “privileges and immunities” of the state they are visiting.

The bill explicitly forbids states from attempting to “restrict or in way sanction, hold liable, discriminate against, or otherwise disadvantage any individual from traveling to another State to receive or provide reproductive health care that is legal in that State.”

“Restricting women’s right to travel across state lines is truly radical — and un-American,” Murray said in a statement. “Our bill would protect Americans’ constitutional right to travel across state lines to get a lawful abortion — and protect the providers who care for them.”

“This legislation would make it clear that anti-choice states can’t prosecute women who travel to another state for reproductive care, and it would also protect reproductive health care providers and others who help women travel for the care they need and deserve,” Cortez Masto said.

Although the measure will likely get support in the House, the bill’s chances in the Senate are slim, as it’s likely that anti-abortion Republicans will utilize the filibuster rule to block its passage. A pair of Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have expressed a willingness to support pro-abortion legislation in the past — but when such a bill came to a vote on the Senate floor, both voted against its passage, claiming that it was too expansive.

It’s unclear as yet where they may stand on a bill protecting the right to travel to get an abortion, but even with their support, the bill will likely fall short of the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster.

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