by Gary Martin, Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 14, 2022
WASHINGTON — A bill by U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto to protect interstate travel by women seeking an abortion was blocked Thursday by a Republican senator who cited the need to protect the rights of the unborn.
U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., objected to a voice vote to pass the “Freedom to Travel for Healthcare Act” that would allow the Justice Department to file civil litigation against states or institutions that prohibit women from crossing states lines for an abortion.
Just 20 days after the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said 18 states have banned abortions and Republicans in Congress are working on legislation to ban abortions nationwide.
Until that happens, she said lawmakers in anti-abortion states are drafting bills to punish women and providers who seek an abortion in states that allow the procedure.
“They want to stop women from traveling for critical care and to punish people who support these women,” Cortez Masto said in a Senate floor speech before she called for a vote on her bill.
Lankford objected. He praised the Supreme Court decision to uphold the rights of the unborn and accused Democrats of using the issue to “inflame” voters in an election year.
No state has thus far banned interstate travel for a woman seeking an abortion, Lankford said.
He added that discussion should include concern for the unborn: “Does that child in the womb have the right to travel in their future?”
State lawmakers in Missouri and Texas are drafting bills that would punish abortion providers, and companies which have publicly announced they would help employees in those states seek medical procedures elsewhere.
In Minnesota, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, said the state is requiring a proof of residency for an abortion.
Cortez Masto said those “fear tactics” in anti-abortion states were creating a chilling effect in Nevada, where the right to an abortion was codified after a 1990 referendum.
She said providers and health care officials in Nevada were concerned they could be prosecuted under laws passed in other states.
During an hourlong debate, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., claimed the legislation would create a “fly-in, abortion on demand” industry.
That claim drew a rebuke from Cortez Masto who noted that medical and health care officials in Nevada have long been established and qualified to provide reproductive care.
Democratic senators from the 16 states that have codified the right to an abortion were outraged that the Cortez Masto bill even had to be considered. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said the Supreme Court decision would deny his daughters a right that women have had for half a century.
“This is radical,” Bennet said, criticizing the Supreme Court.
After Lankford blocked the vote, President Joe Biden, who is traveling abroad, tweeted that he had outlined how he would use executive action to protect women traveling across state borders for health care.
“Today, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would make that right a law,” Biden tweeted.
McConnell: ‘Activist’ ruling overturned
Earlier, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Supreme Court ruling to overturned the 1973 landmark abortion case correctly returned to the states the authority to determine abortion law.
He said the original Roe v. Wade in 1973 ruling was the result of an activist Supreme Court.
McConnell denounced Democrats for failing to accept a 6-3 decision reached last month by a conservative Supreme Court.
But U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Republican arguments about states’ rights were dodging the public outrage over the decision to strip away a constitutional right for women.
“Republicans will do everything they can to change the subject,” Murray said.
The issue of abortion rights has emerged as a partisan issue heading into the midterm elections, which will decide control of the House and Senate.
Cortez Masto, a top Republican target, has made abortion rights a top campaign issue. She introduced the bill Monday with Democratic co-sponsors, who see the recent Supreme Court ruling as out of step with mainstream voters.
Republicans have focused on the economy and rising inflation, while supporting the Supreme Court decision.
Adam Laxalt, a former Nevada attorney general and the Republican challenging Cortez Masto, immediately praised the Supreme Court action, citing the decision to hand back to the states the authority to determine laws over abortion rights.
Laxalt called the Supreme Court decision a victory for the sanctity of life and a return of the responsibility of authority to the American people and its elected representatives.
In Congress, the abortion issue has split largely along party lines.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is expected to bring two abortion-related bills to the floor Friday where they are expected to pass, with support from Nevada Democratic representatives.
But abortion legislation in the Senate is unlikely to pass this year.
Although Republicans blocked the Cortez Masto legislation from receiving a vote, it could be brought up at a later date.
Still, Senate Democrats lack the votes to abolish the legislative filibuster, and they are unlikely to muster the 60 votes needed to end debate and send a bill to the floor for a vote.
The evenly divided Senate is controlled by Democrats due to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.
Two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, support abortion rights, but they did not sign as co-sponsors to the Cortez Masto bill.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has sided with Republicans on the abortion rights issue.