Senate Republicans Just Blocked a Bill Protecting the Right to Abortion-Related Travel

Amid wall-to-wall coverage about the party “softening” its abortion position, Senate Republicans blocked multiple common-sense abortion-related bills. 

Senate Republicans Just Blocked a Bill Protecting the Right to Abortion-Related Travel
From left, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS), Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), and Sen. Ted Budd (R-NC). Photos: Getty Images

Despite how 15 states have now banned abortion, traveling out-of-state for abortion remains absolutely legal. But it’s clear Republican lawmakers want to leave the door open to police or even ban this in the future, potentially entrapping people under their state’s abortion bans. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked multiple common-sense abortion-related bills, including one that would codify a right to interstate abortion travel. The two other bills would protect abortion providers in states where abortion is legal if they offer abortion services to patients from states where it’s banned, and help train more abortion providers at a time when recruiting and retaining OBGYNs has become increasingly difficult in the current legal climate.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the bills by way of unanimous consent, which requires just one senator to block them. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) blocked the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act—she previously blocked two nonpartisan bills to codify a right to provide and receive IVF and fertility treatments, in 2022 and again earlier this year. Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) blocked the Reproductive Health Care Training Act, and Sen. Ted Budd (R-NC) blocked the Let Doctors Provide Reproductive Health Care Act.

In remarks on the Senate floor opposing the abortion-related travel bill, Hyde-Smith grossly equated the constitutional right to interstate travel with so-called abortion trafficking. The Missouri senator initially lied that she and her “pro-life colleagues most certainly do not oppose any individual’s freedom to travel across this great country.” She continued, “But we do take issue with this effort to give bad actors cover from prosecution. While this bill poses as protecting pregnant women from prosecution, it would actually put vulnerable women and girls in harm’s way… this would allow traffickers and abusive partners, parents, or relatives to take vulnerable women and girls across state lines to have abortions in an attempt to cover up their abuse.” That is… nonsense, and it’s an increasingly popular anti-abortion lie. Human trafficking is a legitimate threat in this country, but the right to travel for health care has no impact on or connection to this. If anything, being unable to safely end an unwanted pregnancy exposes victims to a greater risk of violence.

Tellingly, these votes arrive as former President Trump and the Republican Party attempt to posture as “moderate” on abortion, and mainstream media has largely let this rebranding go uninterrogated. Ironically, for months now, Trump has stressed that he supports leaving abortion up to the states rather than a national abortion ban (he’s lying). But to block these bills is to say the quiet part out loud: Republican lawmakers want the ability to ban interstate abortion travel, and the ability to punish and police doctors who provide abortion care to certain patients, even in states where abortion isn’t banned. 

“Are we going to let politicians hold women who want an abortion captive in their states? Seriously?” Murray said in remarks on the Senate floor after Republicans blocked these bills. “If a woman wants to travel somewhere, so she can make her own personal decision about her health care, are Republicans going to tie her hands?” She further stressed that “not a single one of these bills should be controversial.” 

“When it comes to abortion, there is no bill too simple for Republicans to oppose, there is no right too basic for Republicans to attack, and no problem too important for Republicans to ignore,” Murray said.

To Murray’s point, Senate Republicans have been unflinching in shutting down any legislative effort to protect even the most basic reproductive rights, including, just last month, a right to IVF and a right to contraception. Several Senate Republicans have justified this course of action by equating or comparing certain contraceptives as well as IVF with abortion, thus endangering our rights to both. 

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, we’ve seen a growing push from anti-abortion leaders and state lawmakers to interfere with abortion-related travel. Several counties in Texas have enacted ordinances to block people from traveling on highways if their end destination is an out-of-state abortion clinic, though legal experts have pointed out these ordinances are largely symbolic and meant to confuse and intimidate. Several states have also passed bills to criminalize people who help minors seek abortion care out-of-state, though Idaho’s was blocked in court. Last year, Alabama’s attorney general said he can prosecute anyone who helps a pregnant person cross state lines for abortion as “criminal conspiracy.” Nearly two dozen Republican state attorneys general signed a letter in July 2023 rejecting a proposed Biden administration policy change to protect the medical data of people who travel out-of-state for abortion care from being shared with law enforcement. Top anti-abortion activist Jonathan Mitchell is also behind chilling legal efforts to help Texas men harass ex-partners who allegedly traveled out-of-state for abortion care.

I repeat: It’s currently 100% legal to travel out of state for abortion. But clearly, anti-abortion leaders and Senate Republicans intend to attack that right in the future. 

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