Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill that would have both legally shielded the people who travel across states lines to receive an abortion and the providers who care for those patients.
Senate Democrats needed the support of at least 10 Republicans to stop a GOP filibuster of the bill, but no Republicans stood to support the measure.
The Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act of 2022, authored by a trio of Democratic female lawmakers -- New York's Kirsten Gillibrand, Nevada's Catherine Cortez Masto and Patty Murray of Washington -- made an argument rooted in the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause that, among other things, essentially allows citizens freedom of travel to states while enjoying equal protection under the law.
The blocked bill would codify the ability of people to travel without repercussion from a state where abortion is restricted to another state where it is legal.
The bill would extend those same protections to people or groups who assist in abortion access across states as well as health care providers who offer abortion services to out-of-state patients if they are legally allowed to offer those same services to in-state residents.
A group of Democratic senators attempted to call up their bill for debate on Thursday, but Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., objected.
Senate rules require either the unanimous consent of all 100 senators to start debate on any bill or 60 votes to overcome any filibuster that seeks to block that debate.
Lankford is a longstanding opponent of abortion. In floor remarks opposing the bill -- matched by similarly passionate comments by Democrats -- he urged colleagues to consider the lives of who he described as unborn babies.
"The conversation today is not just about women. There are two people in this conversation, a child with 10 fingers and 10 toes and a beating heart and DNA that is uniquely different than the mom's DNA or the dad's DNA," Lankford said. "Maybe this body should pay attention to children as well and to wonder what their future could be to travel in the days ahead."
Lankford also argued that the proposed legislation was unnecessary at this time.
"To be very clear, no state has banned interstate travel for adult women seeking to obtain an abortion -- no state has done that," Lankford said. "Now am I confident there are some people that are out there talking, yes, but there are also in this Senate 5,000 bills that have been filed and how many of them are actually going to move?"
Indeed, some Republican-controlled states are already considering legislation that would bar women from traveling across state lines to receive an abortion. In Missouri, for example, legislation is being considered that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who assists a woman in traveling out of state to receive an abortion. Missouri is one of at least 13 states that have ceased nearly all abortion services.
Democrats warned that other states may soon consider proposals like the Missouri bill that aim to penalize women and those who help them travel across state lines.
"Anyone who tells you this is not a threat is either not paying attention or they are just trying to mislead you," said Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate health committee.
"We don't need to conjure up hypotheticals," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said on the Senate floor on Thursday. "We already know what's happened."
Klobuchar cited recent reports of a 10-year-old girl in Ohio who had to travel to Indiana to receive an abortion after being impregnated by her rapist. (A suspect has been arrested in that case.)
"Should the next little 10-year-old's right or 12-year-old's right or 14-year-old's right to get the care that she desperately needs be put in jeopardy?" Klobuchar asked. "What about her mom? What about her doctor? Where will this end?"
Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet spoke of his three daughters as he made a plea for the right-to-travel bill. He called near-total abortion bans being implemented in some states "literally crazy" but said some Republican lawmakers want to go further.
"I can't believe this is what we are handing over to the next generation of America, I cannot believe it, I cannot believe it," Bennet said. "This is despicable, especially coming from the same people who can never stop telling us how devoted they are to freedom and liberty."
Democrats knew their effort Thursday would fail, but they feel it had symbolic value for voters ahead of the crucial midterm elections -- as Democrats seek to underline the stakes of abortion access, and highlight GOP opposition, in the wake of the Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade last month.
Thursday's bill was part of a unified strategy among Democrats to have abortion-related votes up to Election Day, when -- they and some outside activists hope -- the issue may galvanize people to turn out at the ballot box to preserve their fragile majorities in Congress, despite other political headwinds like inflation.
When a draft of the eventual Supreme Court ruling that overturned Row leaked in May, Democrats attempted to pass the Women's Health Protection Act, which would have codified a women's right to choose and implemented a variety of other provisions to protect abortion access.
That effort was blocked unanimously by Republicans and by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who opposed the bill for going further than a basic codifying of Roe.