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House follows high court’s invite to protect abortion access

The bills aim to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law but they face a dismal future in the Senate given that body’s sharp partisan divide.

WASHINGTON (CN) — In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the House voted Friday to codify the right to abortion into federal law and protect the right to travel across state lines for abortion services.

The Women's Health Protection Act of 2022, a version of a bill that passed the House earlier this year, passed the body again this afternoon by a vote of 219-210, and the Ensuring Access to Aboartion Act passed by a vote of 223-205.

Next Friday marks one month since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, effectively turning abortion access over to the states, in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.

Trigger laws banning abortion immediately went into effect in several states, while other local bans and restrictions on abortion care are tied up in legal battles, putting pressure on Democratic lawmakers to protect abortion access at the federal level.

Friday's legislation aims to reestablish the federal right to an abortion that existed for nearly 50 years under the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade and establish the right for pregnant people in states with abortion restrictions to seek care in other states.

To date, no states have banned residents from traveling out of state to receive an abortion. In the lead-up to Dobbs and in its aftermath, however, reports are growing of pregnant people in states with abortion bans or heavy restrictions on abortion being forced to seek care in other states.

GOP state lawmakers in Missouri are among those to take note of the trend, with policies there in the works to impose sanctions against doctors in states where abortion is legal who provide abortions to people who are residents of a state where abortion is illegal.

The Ensuring Access to Abortion Act builds on a traditionally understood constitutional right to travel freely across state lines, aiming to preemptively shut down policies like the one being considered in Missouri that would restrict residents from seeking abortions out of state.

It would protect doctors, people seeking an abortion and people providing transportation to pregnant people from facing repercussions over legal abortions.

Under the act, the attorney general and affected parties would have the authority to sue people restricting travel for reproductive care in civil court.

"I have been in the exam room with teens facing unplanned pregnancies and with mothers who find out that the pregnancy they are so excited about is not a viable one. These are deeply personal circumstances. And frankly, when and whether and under what circumstances to become a mother is the single most important decision a woman will ever make. And that must be hers to make. The government has no place in the exam room," Democratic Representative Kim Schrier of Washington, a former physician and pediatrician, said on the House floor Friday.

Republican lawmakers branded the bills as allowing "abortion-on-demand,” and Representative Greg Steube of Florida condemned the legislation, referring to abortion as "genocide."

Both of the bills passed Friday face a dismal future in the 50-50 Senate, which voted against codifying the right to an abortion earlier this year and failed to take up the right to travel bill earlier this week.

But House Democrats are determined to continue passing legislation in response to the high court's ruling and a new legal landscape for abortion access.

"Democrats will never stop fighting back against this this extreme assault because we know that every woman anywhere has the basic right to reproductive health care, but right now the rights of women and every American are on the line," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor.

In the coming weeks, the House is expected to consider legislation aimed at protecting access to contraception and the data privacy of people seeking information about reproductive care. Another focus is codifying marriage equality, which may come into the Supreme Court's crosshairs in the coming years.

The executive branch is attempting as well to respond to the aftermath of the high court ruling.

Last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aiming to protect abortion access and directing the Department of Health and Human Services to affirm that doctors have the legal power to provide abortions if a patient's life is under threat.

That order triggered a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who says Biden’s order went beyond the authority of the president and the executive. 

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