Granderson: Newsom's ads against red states' abortion travel bans aren't just a stunt

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 16: Governor of California Gavin Newsom speaks during the ''Homekey'' event in Oakland, California, United States on February 16, 2024. Newsom announced the latest round of Homekey awards to rapidly transform former office spaces, hotels, and other buildings throughout California into housing for those experiencing homelessness. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has a message for voters in red states that are trying to ban interstate travel. (Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu via Getty Images)
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When the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in 2022, the issue of abortion travel bans was addressed, and conservative Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh was clear: They are unconstitutional.

That didn’t stop local travel bans from popping up in Texas less than a year later. Since then Idaho has passed a law, and Oklahoma and Mississippi are debating following suit. Tennessee officials not only want to make taking a minor to get an abortion a felony if a parent did not consent, they also want to make sharing information about abortion laws of other states illegal.

It’s clear Republicans are comfortable ignoring Kavanaugh’s opinion on the constitutionality of the matter, and so California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom is taking up the issue with voters in those conservative states.

This week he announced an ad campaign targeting red states where lawmakers are debating whether to make traveling for out-of-state reproductive care a crime. Normally I don’t like when Newsom sticks his nose in other states’ business — you know, given all of California’s own problems — but he is spot on using his platform to raise the alarm on this issue. (He’s not using California taxpayers’ money; the ads are financed by a political action committee.)

Read more: Newsom unveils multistate ad campaign to fight abortion travel restrictions in red states

As Kavanaugh pointed out, interstate travel is a constitutional right. I happen to believe, as many Supreme Court justices have in the past, that privacy is too. Newsom may occasionally jab his conservative counterparts for political points, but this ad campaign is not simply partisan. Someone has to stand up for the rights of Americans. Ask yourself: How much more government surveillance do we want as a society? To enforce travel bans like the one Tennessee is proposing would require authorities to keep track of things like “where are you going?” and “for how long?”

Our privacy has been losing ground ever since passage of the Patriot Act. Back then a fearful nation was driven by the horror of 9/11. Now it feels as if we’re in a devastating horror of our own making. It was bad enough when blind partisanship took over decisions about reproductive care; now states are looking to criminalize interstate travel.

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We’re so far past the theatrics of Newsom’s debate with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. This time, the spotlight is not on one governor’s ego but on all our right to privacy and interstate travel.

We have enough Americans ensnared in our flawed justice system.

Consider this: Nearly 250 people have been cleared of wrongful convictions thanks to the work of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that uses DNA to overturn verdicts. That represents more than 3,600 collective years behind bars because our justice system got it terribly wrong. Now think about the people the organization hasn’t been able to help. Think about the overworked public defenders doing the best they can. Think about human error.

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This is the legal system into which we want to send victims of rape and incest who might be or have been pregnant, who might have crossed state lines, who are suspected of receiving medical care while out of state or even of hoping to receive care?

Even for a nation that has acclimated to 20 years of unconstitutional invasions of privacy since 9/11, these latest laws feel like a big leap into a dystopian hellscape.

Are we going to pretend now that the Patriot Act established a new normal, and that these state laws banning travel for healthcare are an incremental step beyond that? Did many Americans tolerate the Patriot Act because it took away our freedoms in the name of a religious war? Will many allow more of our privacy to be stripped away in this new religious war?

That’s what the legal battle over reproductive rights has always been. A battle of faiths. There is a version of faith that doesn’t believe a woman should have complete agency over her body. That perverse belief system has inspired innumerable pieces of legislation across the country for years, more and more of them taking effect since Roe vs. Wade fell. And now the men who dominate many state legislatures are not satisfied with controlling what women can do within state lines; they’re trying to control whether women can cross state lines for care.

So sure, you can roll your eyes or ignore Newsom the politician.

But don’t ignore his message on this issue.

Bills disguised as “parental rights” are Trojan horses. Conservatives initially wanted to ban critical race theory out of elementary school. Party leaders never identified an elementary school actually teaching CRT, but that did lead to fear and that fear has led to banning books. Similarly, the rash of bills banning transgender athletes did not come from a tidal wave of examples — just fear. And that fear led to a proposal in Florida in which young girls would be required to answer questions such as “how old were you when you had your first period?” before playing sports.

That’s what fear-based legislation does to a society. It causes a frenzy. It’s how we ended up over-criminalized in the first place. And now an over-policed, over-jailed society has officials in red states thinking about criminalizing interstate travel.

So Newsom may not be the voice Republicans want to hear on this issue, but that doesn’t mean what he is saying is wrong.


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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.