The House passed two bills on Friday meant to protect abortion access in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, including by ensuring people are able to travel across state lines to access care. But both bills are almost certainly doomed in the Senate, thanks to filibuster rules and Republican opposition.
The House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, legislation that aims to codify the Roe decision’s protections, in a 219 to 210 vote. It also passed the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act, a bill that seeks to protect people who are forced to travel out of state to receive abortion care, in a 223 to 205 vote.
As Republicans at the state-level act quickly to ban and severely restrict abortion, activists have urged federal lawmakers to take steps to protect access. And although the bills are likely doomed to die by filibuster in the Senate, the House passage lays the groundwork for future steps ― and sets the stage for more intense pressure on Democratic senators and the Biden administration to do something.
“Is this the United States of America? Where Republicans in these states can say to these women, ‘You cannot cross state lines for your own good health?’” asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during Friday morning’s floor debate.
“This reality is sickening. It is despicable and it demands action,” she continued.
Pelosi, along with many of her Democratic colleagues, wore green to show their support for abortion rights. The symbolic use of the color originated in the reproductive rights movement that took place in Argentina nearly two decades ago.
The Women’s Health Protection Act, originally introduced in Congress in 2013, passed in the House last fall, but failed to pass in the Senate twice this year after Republican filibusters. The legislation would create federal protections for providing and accessing abortion services, effectively codifying Roe by providing safeguards against state bans and medically unnecessary hurdles.
“This bill respects our right to make our own decisions about our bodies,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, said on the House floor. “It’s time to put control of our bodies back in our hands. Now is the time to pass The Women’s Health Protection Act.”
Since the conservative-majority court overturned Roe v. Wade, over a dozen states have already banned or severely restricted abortion, and more are likely to follow suit in the coming weeks, forcing many people to travel across state lines to seek abortion care. The ruling leaves behind legal gray areas and a patchwork of abortion care — all of which will disproportionately impact low-income people, women of color and folks who live in rural areas.
“What in the world is happening to our democracy?” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a longtime reproductive justice advocate and chair of the Pro-Choice caucus, said on the House floor. “Just know this is a slippery slope. They come for me today, they’re coming for you tomorrow.”
Along with bans within their own states, Republicans and many heavyweight anti-abortion groups have already proposed legislation to restrict patients from crossing state lines for abortion services.
The Ensuring Women’s Right to Reproductive Freedom Act, introduced by Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas), would protect people traveling across state lines for reproductive health services including abortion. It would also allow lawsuits against people who restricted or impeded the ability to travel across state lines for obtaining an abortion in a state where it’s legal.
Senate Democrats introduced a similar bill to Fletcher’s earlier this week, but Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) blocked it from moving forward on Thursday. Despite some Republicans already floating ways to prevent interstate abortions, Lankford insisted such a bill is unnecessary.
“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,” Lankford, who supports a nationwide abortion ban, said on the Senate floor.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh clarified as part of the recent case that overturned Roe that the right to interstate travel is constitutionally protected, even if the travel is for abortion care.
“As I see it, some of the other abortion-related legal questions raised by today’s decision are not especially difficult as a constitutional matter,” he wrote. “For example, may a state bar a resident of that state from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion? In my view, the answer is no, based on the constitutional right to interstate travel.”
Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson applauded the work of House Democrats in a Friday afternoon statement.
“Despite Republican lawmaker attempts to block these bills, we are grateful that our sexual and reproductive health champions in the House once again took action for abortion rights,” she said.
“It’s unconscionable, but frankly not surprising, that anti-abortion rights lawmakers continue to defy their constituents’ will and oppose legislation that would help safeguard their access to essential health care,” McGill Johnson continued. “Each person ― not politicians ― should have the power to decide if and when to start or expand their family. The members of Congress who voted against these bills are standing on the wrong side of the American people and history. This November, voters will remember.”