Republicans block Cortez Masto bill protecting patients traveling for abortion services

Republicans block Cortez Masto bill protecting patients traveling for abortion services
U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto speaks during a press conference to discuss the importance of women’s reproductive health care Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Las Vegas. Planned Parenthood (Photo by Ronda Churchill/The Nevada Current)

by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans blocked U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s bill that would protect patients in states where abortion is banned who seek to travel out of state to access services. 

Cortez Masto, along with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, recently introduced the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act of 2022 as Republican-led state legislatures ramped up efforts to restrict pregnant people from seeking abortion services in other states.  

While speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Cortez Masto called those efforts “blatantly unconstitutional” adding that “merely proposing them has created profound uncertainty for patients, health care providers, insurers, and employers across the country.”

“Anti-choice state legislators in Missouri, Texas, and Arkansas have said they want to pass bills to fine or prosecute women who travel for health care, providers who offer abortion services, and the many employers who have said they will support their employees who need to seek reproductive care in another state,” she said. 

The legislation, Cortez Masto said, would protect providers and “anyone who helps women travel to the care they deserve.”

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Adam Laxalt, who is running against Cortez Masto, has previously called Roe v Wade “a joke” and said “I think its return back to the states is important,” according to The Nevada Independent.

Nevada Current reached out to Laxalt’s campaign for comment on Cortez Masto’s legislation and to ask him to provide his views on states restricting patients from traveling to seek abortion services. 

His campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Cortez Masto, along with the majority of Congressional Democrats, have warned if Republicans retake Congress, they will introduce a national ban on abortion. 

In an interview with USA Today in May, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said if the Supreme Court turned back Roe v. Wade, “legislative bodies … certainly could legislate in that area.” 

Cortez Masto’s legislation is part of unsuccessful efforts by Congressional Democrats to implement protections for abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. 

The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021, which prohibits government restrictions on access to abortion services, passed the House in September, but has since stalled. The House is expected to vote on the legislation again. 

A Republican-led filibuster in the Senate means any bills expanding abortion protections – as well as any Democratic priority – can’t advance without 60 votes. 

Many Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have called on Senate members to break the filibuster to codify abortion protections, but that would require support of all 50 Senate Democrats. 

At least two Democratic senators, U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, oppose filibuster reform. 

Cortez Masto’s bill being blocked comes as Nevada has seen an influx of patients from out of state seeking abortion services. 

At a recent roundtable with U.S. Rep. Susie Lee, medical providers warned Nevada could face a “tidal wave” of patients needing to travel to the state. 

The surge in patients, providers said, could result in longer wait times and lead to advanced gestation, which could result in increased risks for pregnant people seeking abortions. 

The Biden administration announced Monday that federal law protects providers who offer abortion services to save a patient’s life or the health of the mother even in states with abortion bans.

Around the same time Cortez Masto was speaking on her legislation, Texas announced it was suing the administration over its federal rules allowing medical providers to offer abortions in medical emergencies.

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