Can Women Travel For An Abortion?

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., speaks before President Joe Biden speaks about prescription drug costs at the Daniel Technology Center of Germanna Community College – Culpeper Campus, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Culpeper, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

By Amie Knowles

July 21, 2022

There is no law preventing women from traveling to or from Virginia in search of an abortion.

Imagine needing a lifesaving procedure. Now imagine that you can access that medical help in a neighboring state, but you can’t in your own. Should you have the right to cross state lines in order to receive medical intervention?

If you answered “yes,” you’re in the same boat as leading Democrats, like Rep. Abigail Spanberger, the congressional representative for Virginia’s District 7. In a telephone town hall on July 19, she answered questions and addressed concerns from constituents in her district on a host of issues, including abortion.

The congresswoman tackled the question of interstate travel. Why? It’s not because some government leaders would want to limit vacation opportunities. No, because in some states, the fall of Roe v. Wade has severely limited abortion access. For some women, that meant that even in cases of rape or incest, they could not legally terminate a pregnancy.

The issue was personified recently when a 10-year-old victim of rape from Ohio had to travel to another state to receive an abortion for the pregnancy the illegal act caused. Sadly, the timing of the minor’s story caused some people to question the legitimacy of the ordeal. Snopes investigated and found that “Ohio’s law banning abortions for people who have been pregnant for six weeks or longer did not make an exception for rape victims, as of July 2022.”

“Notably, this young girl, despite the horrors that she’s endured, needed to travel out of state to receive the healthcare to protect her,” Spanberger said. 

Abortion is still legal in Virginia. However, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin expressed plans to seek a 15-or-20 week abortion law in Virginia, with legislation to be introduced when the General Assembly returns in January 2023. 

Currently, there is no law preventing women from traveling to or from Virginia in search of an abortion.

“As it relates to the issue of travel, certainly the right to travel has been an actual bedrock of American freedom since the Articles of Confederation,” Spanberger said. “And the idea that states would try to hinder someone’s ability to travel between states is just outrageous.”

The Right To Travel, Historically 

Let’s look at the history — because the right to travel actually predates the United States. 

Many Americans are familiar with the Declaration of Independence, adopted on July 4, 1776. However, another important document served as America’s first frame of government. That was the Articles of Confederation, which was approved by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777.

While it took several years for the colonies to ratify the agreement, the document came to serve the land on March 1, 1781. That was still two full years before the Revolutionary War ended! 

The document contained guidance for a host of various issues, from conducting business to addressing territorial issues. It also contained information about the right to travel, in Article 4.

The Colorado Department of Education has a simplified version of the lengthy document on their website. It explains Article 4 this way: “People can travel freely from state to state; however, criminals who left the state where they committed the crime would be sent back for trial.”

What might come as a surprise is that the right to travel wasn’t originally included in the United States Constitution. But don’t worry — it is now, thanks to the 14th Amendment. 

Here’s what the 14th Amendment says: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

FindLaw helped translate the legal jargon of the 1860s for modern readers. The website notes that the right to travel encompasses three separate rights:

  • A citizen can move freely between states
  • A citizen of one state who is visiting another state receives the privileges and immunities offered by that state
  • A citizen that moves to and establishes citizenship in a state can enjoy the same rights and benefits as other state citizens

Efforts In Virginia 

As part of the Democrat-led US House of Representatives, Spanberger has continued to vote in favor of abortion access. 

Key national votes the congresswoman supported included the Women’s Health Protection Acts (WHPA) of 2021 and 2022 and the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act of 2022. 

The WHPA aimed to prohibit governmental restrictions of the provisions of, and access to, abortion services. It passed the House, but failed in the Senate. 

The Ensuring Access to Abortion Act aimed to prohibit anyone acting under state law from interfering with a person’s ability to access out-of-state abortion services. The legislation passed the House and currently resides in the Senate.

“I continue to be engaged on efforts here within Congress to codify Roe,” Spanberger said. “So at a federal level, ensuring access to safe and legal abortion at the level that was in place during the time when Roe was the settled law of the land.”

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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