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Republicans balk at bill to protect interstate abortion travel

Democrats tried to pass a bill to prevent anyone from restricting inter-state travel for the purpose of reproductive health care. The GOP had other ideas.


As Republican-appointed justices on the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, those involved in the fight over abortion rights took stock of a new landscape: Americans in some states would soon have to travel — if they could afford it — to other states in order to receive reproductive care.

Except, for many Republicans, that wouldn’t be nearly good enough. It wasn’t long before some GOP officials not only began discussing a federal abortion ban, there was also talk of red states exploring restrictions that would prevent Americans from terminating unwanted pregnancies in more progressive states.

Indeed, The Washington Post reported late last month, “Several national antiabortion groups and their allies in Republican-led state legislatures are advancing plans to stop people in states where abortion is banned from seeking the procedure elsewhere.”

As The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie summarized this week, “I think we’re heading for interstate-legal conflict on a scale that Americans have not experienced since before the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.”

With this in mind, Senate Democrats set out to protect interstate travel for abortion. As NBC News reported, the initial legislative effort faced immediate Republican opposition.

Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic bill Thursday that would protect the rights of women to travel to other states to access abortion care legally. The author of the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, requested consent to quickly pass the legislation but met resistance from Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who objected on behalf of Republicans.

The Nevada Democrat’s bill, which is likely to be brought back up again, is designed to prevent anyone from restricting inter-state travel for the purpose of reproductive health care.

To be sure, the outcome was not unexpected. Cortez Masto knew the bill would face GOP opposition, and it did. The odds of passage were effectively zero.

Democrats pursued the matter anyway, in part to demonstrate to the party’s base that officials are taking the matter seriously, in part to see what Republicans would say as part of the debate.

Oklahoma’s Lankford, for example, called the bill an attempt to address “what ifs.” That’s not an outlandish argument: The Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act is inherently preemptive, intended to address a threat, not restrictions that have already been implemented.

But that wasn’t the only argument.

“There’s a child in this conversation, as well,” Lankford said on the Senate floor, adding that the bill’s Democratic proponents should ask themselves, “Does the child in the womb have the right to travel in their future?”

Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana said that the “radical” legislation might lead businesses to promote “abortion tourism.”

He didn’t say why, exactly, the measure should be seen as “radical.” He also didn't explain why fears of "abortion tourism" should be seen as a persuasive argument against travel protections for Americans.

The House is expected to vote as early as this afternoon on a related bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas. Watch this space.