U.S. House passes bills to ensure nationwide abortion access, interstate travel

By: - July 17, 2022 2:27 pm

Neither bill passed by the House passed Friday will clear the evenly divided U.S. Senate, where at least 10 Republicans would need to vote to move past the legislative filibuster. (Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House passed legislation Friday that would reinstate access to abortion, though it’s highly unlikely the two bills approved on mostly party-line votes — or more that will come in the weeks ahead — would clear the 50-50 Senate.

One measure that House members engaged in passionate debate over Friday would make it clear that patients seeking abortions can travel without penalty to states where it’s legal, if the procedure is banned or heavily restricted in their home states.

Another bill would reinstate a nationwide right to an abortion, rejecting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

The bill to protect patients’ rights to travel for abortion services passed 223-205, with 220 Democrats and three Republicans voting in favor. The Republicans were Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

The legislation legalizing abortion nationwide passed 219-210, with no Republicans voting in favor. Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar voted against the legalization bill.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said Republicans in state legislatures discussing travel bans could lead to “draconian, authoritarian laws.”

“I’m old enough to remember when it wasn’t legal and when people died in back alleys after going to charlatans, not having proper medical care,” Hoyer said. “Let’s not return to those dark and tragic days.”

California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier said the abortion travel bill is necessary because the Supreme Court could also undo the constitutional right to travel it recognized under the Fifth Amendment.

“Interestingly enough, the right to travel, those words, are not in the Fifth Amendment,” Speier said. “So if we have an originalist court, we do have to pass this bill … because women should be able to travel. And right now we cannot even guarantee that to a woman who wants to get an abortion.”

The Supreme Court’s opinion in the Kent v. Dulles case in 1958 determined “the right to travel is a part of the ‘liberty’ of which a citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment.”

Florida Republican Rep. Kat Cammack argued Democrats’ concerns about state laws that may restrict travel and Democratic lawmakers’ questions about how exactly state governments would enforce those laws were absurd.

“The notion that women will somehow be stopped at checkpoints is insane,” Cammack said.

Neither bill passed by the House passed Friday will clear the evenly divided U.S. Senate, where at least 10 Republicans would need to vote to move past the legislative filibuster.

The House previously approved another version of the Women’s Health Protection Act on a 218 – 211 vote last September. The Senate tried to pass a similar bill, but was unable to get the votes needed to surmount the legislative filibuster following a 49 – 51 procedural vote in May.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto sponsored a Senate bill to protect the travel rights of people seeking abortions. That bill was killed by Senate Republicans last week.

The House is slated to vote next week on a bill that would ensure access to contraception nationwide, in response to concerns the conservative justices may undo other constitutional rights based in the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his opinion for the abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that the Supreme Court should reconsider three prior cases that were based on the same legal logic as the constitutional right to an abortion.

Those three separate rulings recognized a constitutional right to determine if and how to use contraception, prevented government interference in consensual adult private sexual relationships and legalized same-sex marriage.

Hoyer said Friday when announcing the vote next week on contraceptive access that “American women deserve to be able to make decisions about their own bodies and their own lives, including whether to become pregnant and have children.”

“That is a basic human right that House Democrats will defend with all our strength,” Hoyer continued.

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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.