In Washington, Republicans say it’s ridiculous to accuse the GOP of trying to prevent women from traveling to access abortion care. In Texas, that project is already underway.
The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act. The law would have protected the ability to travel from states where abortion is banned to states where it remains legal to receive care. Senate Republicans, led by James Lankford of Oklahoma, have already blocked the measure, characterizing it a solution in need of a problem. “No state has banned interstate travel for adult women seeking to obtain an abortion,” Lankford said. “This seems to be just trying to inflame, to raise the what-ifs.”
Democrats on the ground in Texas, though, are wise to this tactic. It’s one they’ve seen before, and they are urging outsiders and national Democrats to pay attention: The effort to restrict a woman’s right to travel across state lines is already underway.
One week before Lankford made those comments, Yvette Ostolaza, a Dallas-based corporate litigator and the head of the white-shoe law firm Sidley Austin LLP, received a letter from a handful of elected officials in Texas.
It has come to our attention that Sidley Austin has decided to reimburse the travel costs of employees who leave Texas to murder their unborn children,” the letter, signed by eleven Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives, read. It went on to threaten the law firm — one of the country’s largest — with criminal prosecution and the disbarment of its partners, among other penalties, over its pledge to reimburse “abortion-related travel and, if necessary, related legal-defense expenses” for its employees. In the letter, Republicans went on to detail their plans to introduce “legislation next session that will impose additional civil and criminal sanctions on law firms that pay for abortions or abortion travel.”
Dozens of the nation’s top law firms, as well as many of its biggest corporations — Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Disney, Tesla, JP Morgan Chase, to name a few — have publicly promised to help employees forced to travel from states where abortion has been banned to recieve medical care. It’s unclear why the Republicans singled out Sidley Austin, and the letter’s author, Mayes Middleton, chair of the Texas Freedom Caucus, did not respond to a request for comment. (Representatives for Sidley declined to comment as well.)
What is clear, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) tells Rolling Stone, is the letter’s intent: “It is a threat to every employer in Texas that has a similar policy.”