WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to protect doctors who provide abortion care in states such as Rhode Island, where the procedure is still legal, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) joined U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), and several colleagues in introducing the Let Doctors Provide Reproductive Health Care Act. This measure would ensure health care providers in states where abortion is still legal are not unfairly punished by other states for providing their patients, who may travel across state lines, with legal abortion care or other reproductive health care services.
Republicans’ continued attacks against women’s reproductive freedom has long targeted doctors, with state laws like Texas’ SB8 allowing for anyone to bring a lawsuit against an abortion provider. But in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, these attacks have ramped up—with Republican state legislators drafting legislation that would make it a crime to perform an abortion on a state resident even in another state where abortion is legal. And already, abortion providers are facing attacks from Republican politicians, including Dr. Caitlin Bernard—an abortion provider who is facing legal threats after providing legal abortion care to a 10-year-old rape victim who was forced to cross state lines. Dr. Bernard’s case is emblematic of what abortion providers across the country are facing, as Republicans lob legal threats and intimidate doctors providing legal abortion care.
The Let Doctors Provide Reproductive Health Care Act will help protect against these attacks, ensuring that providers in states where abortion remains legal are protected from any efforts to restrict their practice or create uncertainty about their legal liability.
“Doctors shouldn’t be punished for providing their patients with legal abortion care—full stop. The legal threats, the intimidation, and the non-stop attacks from Republicans against abortion providers are unacceptable, and Democrats are fighting back,” said Senator Murray. “This bill is simple: it protects doctors providing legal abortion care, and ensures they can practice medicine and save lives without threat. It’s urgent that we protect the doctors so many women depend on, so this week we’re calling for unanimous consent to get this done—and Republicans will either stand aside so we can pass this bill, or show once and for all that their messaging that they ‘don’t want to punish doctors’ is hollow.”
“When a woman goes to the doctor for care, neither she nor her doctor should have to worry about an out-of-state lawsuit. Doctors need to focus on providing the best care, and nothing else,” said Senator Reed. “Rhode Island doctors should not be restricted from providing reproductive care to patients or punished by anti-choice zealots in other states. In the wake of the Republican-effort to overturn Roe v. Wade and erode women’s reproductive rights and freedoms, this federal law is needed to ensure that medical professionals don’t face legal jeopardy for providing patient care in accordance with state laws.”
“Medical professionals should never have to fear going to prison for doing their jobs,” said Senator Whitehouse, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Our legislation will shield Rhode Island doctors from unfair prosecution for providing care to women who seek an abortion in the state, regardless of where they are from.”
The Let Doctors Provide Reproductive Health Care Act will ensure that providers in states where abortion remains legal are protected from any efforts to restrict their practice or create uncertainty about their legal liability. Specifically, the bill will:
• Protect health care providers in states where abortion is legal from being subject to laws that try to prevent them from providing reproductive health care services or make them liable for providing those services to patients from any other state. These protections could be enforced by a federal lawsuit from the Department of Justice, a patient, or a provider, ensuring a future Department of Justice could not turn a blind eye to state laws that violate these protections;
• Prohibit any federal funds from being used to pursue legal cases against individuals who access legal reproductive health care services or against health care providers in states where abortion is legal;
• Create a new grant program at the Department of Justice to fund legal assistance or legal education for reproductive health care service providers;
• Create a new grant program at the Department of Health and Human Services to support reproductive health care service providers in obtaining physical, cyber, or data privacy security upgrades necessary to protect their practice and patients; and
• Protect reproductive health care providers from being denied professional liability insurance coverage because of legal services offered to patients.
In addition to Senators Murray, Reed, and Whitehouse, the legislation is also co-sponsored by Senators Schumer (D-NY), Luján (D-NM), Padilla (D-CA), Rosen (D-NV), Bennet (D-CO), Markey (D-MA), Stabenow (D-MI), Heinrich (D-NM), Blumenthal (D-CT), Wyden (D-OR), Warren (D-MA), Merkley (D-OR), Smith (D-MN), Van Hollen (D-MD), Cardin (D-MD), Menendez (D-NJ), Klobuchar (D-MN), Murphy (D-CT), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Hirono (D-HI), Sanders (I-VT), and Duckworth (D-IL).
The bill has been endorsed by Physicians for Reproductive Health, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Catholics for Choice, the National Partnership for Women & Families, the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the National Council of Jewish Women.