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Texas highways become abortion rights battleground

Texas highways have become a new battleground in the battle over access to abortion. Anti-abortion activists in Texas are going around the state encouraging local communities to make it illegal to use roads in their jurisdictions to travel for an abortion out of state.

“This is an issue that is, I think, shocking to so many of us in Texas, and at the same time, not really surprising, because we have seen how extreme the anti-abortion action activists are here in Texas and across the country,” said Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas. “But Texas is really where so much of this movement has started and has really succeeded.”

Such local laws are being taken up in rural communities like Llano, a small city of with a population of about 3,300, about 75 miles northwest of Austin, the state’s capital.

If passed, the idea is to try and stop people from driving west through Llano on the way to get an abortion in states like New Mexico, where the procedure is legal. 

“It's very challenging for states to directly control behavior that occurs in other states. And I don't think Texas, for example, would like it if New York started to make it that you could be sued to go to Texas for the terrible thing of eating meat barbecue,” said Seth Chandler, a law professor at the University of Houston. “I think we start to run into trouble when we invite states or localities to punish people for conduct that occurs outside of the state that is legal in that state.”  

Chandler doesn’t believe such ordinances can withstand legal challenge. The ordinances, he said, make it difficult for people to travel interstate, interfering with interstate commerce.

The Llano City Council tabled the proposal for now but the idea is being considered in other local communities, and has already passed in at least two rural Texas counties — Mitchell and Goliad — each of which have a population of less than 10,000 people. 

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the right to ban abortion, Texas passed a law making it a crime to perform the procedure, punishable by life in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

And anyone who aids and abets someone getting an abortion can be sued. 

Fletcher introduced a bill in Congress that would codify court rulings around interstate travel and protect the right to travel to get an abortion.

“The right to travel is one of the fundamental privileges that citizens of the United States expect the right to travel between the states,” Fletcher said. “The idea that you can't is really unfathomable to most Americans. And so, unfortunately, it is something we need to protect.” 

Fletcher says she believes this new effort making it harder for people to travel for abortions creates more confusion in the minds of those considering or seeking abortions in a post-Roe America.

Reena Diamante, Spectrum News