Should the federal government be in the business of giving money to people to travel across state lines for an abortion?
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, states have begun to restrict or outlaw abortion. In states where abortion is illegal or severely restricted, though, people can still travel to other states to obtain the procedure.
For now, at least. Some red state politicians are trying to ban their residents from traveling out of state for an abortion, though no state has actually passed such a law yet.
If any state does, it would surely be subject to a lawsuit, which would almost definitely reach the Supreme Court. Some law professors predict the Court would uphold such a law as constitutional.
Much national attention on the subject has particularly focused on Illinois. The state has liberal abortion policies but is surrounded by states with conservative abortion policies, including Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, and Missouri. Illinois is now expecting a huge surge in abortion demand from women in neighboring states.
In July, the House passed the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act by 223–205, which would safeguard the right to travel across state lines for abortion in federal law, by precluding state laws that prohibit it.
Democrats unanimously supported it, while Republicans overwhelmingly opposed it by 3–205. The three Republicans who supported it were Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA1), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL16), and Fred Upton (R-MI6).
However, its odds of passage are considered low in the Senate.
So the current legal status remains that traveling across state lines for abortion is currently allowed by all 50 states, even if not guaranteed by federal law. Accordingly, the next debate on the issue has turned to another facet: funding. Should the federal government actually fund such travel?
In a June interview with NBC News’s Kate Snow at the Aspen Ideas conference, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said he would consider supporting the assistance or funding of people to travel across state lines to get an abortion. But that presumably would have to be authorized by Congress.
What the Democratic bill does
The Reproductive Health Travel Fund Act would establish such a grant program through the Department of Health and Human Services. The cost would be $300 million per year for the next five fiscal years, totaling $1.5 billion.
It was introduced in the House on July 20 as H.R. 8452, by Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-WA10).
What the Republican bill does
The Protect STATE Lines Act would ban any such federal funding to transport a person over state lines to obtain an abortion. The bill would include exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.
The word STATE in the acronym stands for Statutory Termination of Abortions from Taxpayer-funded Excursions.
It was introduced in the House on July 14 as H.R. 8378, by Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC11).
What each side says
Democrats argue that they believe abortion is a right, and a right should not be impeded by one’s finances.
“Access to safe and legal reproductive health care, including abortion, should not be limited to those with the resources to travel,” Rep. Strickland said in a press release. “The decision to overturn *Roe *already affects low-income families, particularly women of color, across the country. It is our responsibility to ensure equitable access to reproductive medical care for all women regardless of where they live.”
Republicans argue that the other branches are supposed to respect federal judicial opinions, rather than finding workarounds for them.
“Ensuring that the innocent among us are protected is something that is very near and dear to my heart. One of the most important ways we can protect the unborn is by stopping the Biden administration’s gross abuse of power and executive overreach,” Rep. Cawthorn said. “This legislation showcases that Congress will respect the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn *Roe *and not allow the federal government to overreach their constitutional authority.”
Odds of passage
Rep. Strickland’s bill has attracted 61 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rep. Cawthorn’s bill has not yet attracted any cosponsors, despite what would ostensibly be considerable support in the Republican caucus. It also awaits a potential vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, though odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled chamber.