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State abortion bans forcing interstate travel, U.S. Senate panel hears

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State abortion bans forcing interstate travel, U.S. Senate panel hears

Jun 12, 2024 | 6:50 pm ET
By Jennifer Shutt
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State abortion bans forcing interstate travel, U.S. Senate panel hears
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Lauren Miller, who was denied access to an abortion in Texas, listens during a hearing with a U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee on June 12, 2024. The subcommittee held the hearing to discuss abortion bans and interstate travel to access them after the 2022 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the right to an abortion. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — When Lauren Miller flew from her home state of Texas to Colorado two years ago she felt a moment of relief when the plane took off — not because she had been delayed for hours or because she needed a vacation, but because she was about to meet with doctors who would be able to treat her complicated pregnancy with twins.

Miller, whose family has been in the Lone Star State for eight generations, testified Wednesday before a U.S. Senate panel about the struggles she faced after learning in 2022 one of the twins’ brains wasn’t developing correctly and was about half fluid.

“One of our twin sons was going to die. It was just a matter of how soon,” Miller testified. “And every day that he continued to grow, he put his twin and myself at greater and greater risk.”

The fear was complicated by Texas’ strict restrictions on abortion, which forced Miller to seek out treatment options without her doctors’ assistance.

Miller testified that, thankfully, she had a longtime friend she could trust who was an OB-GYN, who understood the landscape of abortion laws and knew doctors who could help address her diagnosis.

“She fortunately knew an OB-GYN in Colorado, in a safe state,” Miller testified. “And I’ll never forget getting on the phone with him and his first words were, ‘My feet are on the ground in Colorado, and I can answer anything you ask.’”

Miller said the best option for her and her family was to have a single fetal reduction, but that was technically an abortion and she couldn’t get it in Texas.

While discussing how to travel, she and her husband debated leaving their cell phones at home and only using cash out of fear of being tracked or facing prosecution for traveling for the procedure. But they ultimately took a flight instead of driving due to how sick she was at the time.

“We didn’t tell anybody what had happened,” Miller said Wednesday. “We didn’t tell anybody what we had done because we were so scared.”

Bill on interstate travel

The hearing on interstate travel was held by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights.

Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the panel’s chairman, said Congress should pass legislation from Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto that would reaffirm that people have a right to travel between states for reproductive health care.

Cortez Masto testified before the committee on Wednesday that her home state has seen a drastic increase in patients traveling for abortion care during the last two years and that the bill would protect those people and their doctors.

“Our legislation reaffirms that women have a fundamental right to interstate travel and makes it crystal clear states cannot prosecute women or anyone who helps them for going to another state to get the critical reproductive care they need,” Cortez Masto said. “The Freedom to Travel for Healthcare Act would also protect healthcare providers in pro-choice states like Nevada, who help these women traveling from out of state.”

The right to travel is already fundamental throughout the United States, but several GOP states have begun looking for ways to block their residents from traveling for abortions.

Right to travel

Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, D.C., testified during the hearing that attempting to bar travel is “highly problematic, inconsistent with long-standing constitutional protections and Supreme Court precedent, and would bring even more disruption to our healthcare system.”

Frye told senators that the right to travel between the states “is one of the bedrock” foundations of the United States that was included in the Articles of Confederation, which were approved before the Constitution, though the right is also found in that document.

“The efforts to really impede the right to travel, really go to the heart of our Constitution and our democracy.” Frye said. “And, you know, even in a world where people disagree on a lot of things, our ability to go from state to state of our own accord is a fundamental principle.”

Frye also referenced Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion in the case that overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, where he affirmed that people seeking abortions have a right to travel between states.

Kavanaugh 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.”