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 pass the legislation quickly but met resistance from Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who objected on behalf of Republicans.
“There’s a child in this conversation, as well,” Lankford said on the Senate floor, accusing Democrats of seeking “to inflame — to raise the what-ifs.” He said proponents of the bill should ask themselves: “Does the child in the womb have the right to travel in their future?”
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., called the legislation “radical” and warned against promoting “abortion tourism” by businesses.
Cortez Masto responded: “The issue here before us is exactly a states’ rights issue. … All my legislation says is respect my state.”
The eight-page bill would make it unlawful for a person or a government official to prevent or punish traveling across state lines “to receive or provide reproductive health care that is legal in that State.” It also would bar states from imposing laws prohibiting women from traveling to other states to get abortions.
Cortez Masto said in a statement, “Anti-choice state legislators in Missouri, Texas, and Arkansas have said they want to pass bills to fine or prosecute women who travel for health care.”
The House is poised to vote Friday on a similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas, that would protect interstate travel for women seeking abortions where they are legal. The measure is expected to pass, but its prospects are uncertain in the Senate, where at least 10 Republican votes would be needed to defeat a filibuster.
Cortez Masto, who is one of the most politically vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election this fall, accused Republicans who oppose her bill of “allowing state legislators to reach across state lines to control not just what happens in their states, but what happens in every state across this country, and to punish women for exercising their fundamental rights.”
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” she said.
Despite the GOP objection to passing Cortez Masto’s bill, Senate Republicans appear divided over whether women should retain the right to travel to get abortions. Some in the party argue that travel can’t or shouldn’t be restricted, although there was limited GOP interest in backing the Democratic bill.
“No state has the right to prohibit travel,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said in an interview, adding that the right stems from the Constitution and has been recognized by the Supreme Court.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., the chair of the Senate GOP campaign arm, said Wednesday he hadn’t read the Democrats’ bill but broadly believes Americans should be allowed to travel, including in circumstances like accessing legal abortion.