The Ms. Q&A With U.S. Senator Patty Murray: ‘Our Ultimate Goal Is to Put Roe Back Into Law’

“Our ultimate goal is to put Roe back into law. We don’t have the votes today, but that is our goal,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told Ms. “A legislative body should not be deciding when a woman can get access to care.”

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) speaks on reproductive rights outside the U.S. Capitol on Aug. 2, 2022. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

As the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s devastating decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization approaches, Ms. spoke with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)—who has has been at the forefront of the congressional fight for reproductive freedom since she was first elected in 1992. Today, Murray leads the Democratic Caucus on reproductive rights, chairs the Senate Committee on Appropriations and is the first woman to serve as Senate president pro tempore.

This month alone, Murray has been busy:

  • On June 14, Sens. Murray and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) reintroduced the Right to Contraception Act to protect every American’s fundamental right to use birth control. 
  • The next day, Sens. Murray and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) introduced the Reproductive Health Care Training Act to ensure the next generation of healthcare providers receive training and education in abortion care, regardless of where they reside.

And this week, Murray will join Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democratic women lawmakers to seek unanimous consent on the Senate floor (in which a measure automatically passes, so long as no senator objects) for four common-sense bills to protect reproductive healthcare access:

  • the Right to Contraception Act, which would enshrine into law the right to use birth control;
  • the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act, to ensure women in anti-abortion states can travel to another for abortion care;
  • the Let Doctors Provide Reproductive Health Care Act, which would protect healthcare providers from being held liable for providing abortions; and
  • the Upholding Protections for Health and Online Location Data (UPHOLD) Privacy Act, to protect abortion-seekers’ digital data.

Despite widespread majority support across the U.S., the bills face an uphill climb in the Senate due to Republican opposition, Murray admits—but the vote “will force Republicans to go on the record once again, and explain to the American people why they refuse to codify our right to contraception, why they refuse to let women travel across state lines for lifesaving healthcare.”

Murray is also a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which codifies abortion rights established in Roe, and the EACH Act, which requires federal healthcare programs, including Medicaid, to provide coverage for abortion services.

Sen. Murray spoke with Ms. about the impact of Dobbs on women across the country and what she’s doing to take back women’s reproductive rights.

Carrie Baker: What are you doing in Congress to protect abortion rights?

Patty Murray: We tried to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, but it takes 60 votes in the Senate and we aren’t able to get that. Every time we have tried to do anything, we are blocked by Republicans. So, we have looked at every other way that we can try and help manage the chaos and crisis that’s been created by Dobbs through other pieces of legislation to help alleviate the pain as much as we can.

We are trying to pass the Right to Contraception bill, so that we can affirm for women everywhere that they have a right to contraception. So far, that’s been blocked by Republicans.

We are trying to protect Americans’ right to travel for abortion. There are state legislatures who are trying to enact laws that say if a woman who lives in their state travels to another state to get the healthcare that she needs, that she will have to pay a fine or worse when she comes home. We’re trying to pass federal legislation to make sure that women can travel to get the care that they need.

We’re also trying to protect doctors who provide care. I’ll give you an example from my home state of Washington. We’re on the border of Idaho, which has passed some of the strictest laws in the nation. We have women who have doctors who live in Idaho. Can a doctor living in Idaho and working in Washington state be criminally charged in Idaho if they provide abortion care in Washington? We’re trying to protect these providers.

Our ultimate goal is to put Roe back into law. We know that we don’t have the votes today, but that is our goal and has to be for everyone in this country who cares about women’s healthcare.

Baker: Republicans have been trying to put a rider on the 2024 budget to try to ban mailing abortion pills. Are you going to be able to defeat that?

Murray: Absolutely. There’s no way I will let any legislation pass here that takes away a woman’s right to have access to abortion pills by mail. They’re also trying to ban mifepristone legislatively in Congress, in the courts and in state legislatures. There is misinformation everywhere. We are doing our best to make sure that women get the best care they can and ultimately fighting to make sure that we get back to the days when women can make their own healthcare choices.

There’s no way I will let any legislation pass here that takes away a woman’s right to have access to abortion pills by mail.

Sen. Patty Murray

Baker: What can you say about Senator Tommy Tuberville‘s efforts right now to block generals and admirals from taking command because of the Defense Department’s new policy to pay travel costs for service members seeking abortion or other reproductive care?

Murray: It is so outrageous the steps some Republicans are taking to bring further chaos and nightmare to women’s lives. Using top military promotions to promote their cause is the ultimate of bad behavior and it’s wrong.

Baker: What is the Democratic Caucus on reproductive rights doing?

Murray: We are working to come up with the best solutions for what is happening to women in this country and the healthcare impacts we are seeing.

For example, women who have period apps on their phone are now being tracked and traced. We’re working on legislation to protect women from this. The overturning of Roe has created so many things out there that are hurting women. We’re constantly working together to protect women.

A legislative body should not be deciding when a woman can get access to care. It should not be courts or politicians, because circumstances surrounding pregnancy are extremely complex and misunderstood.

I was just with a woman from Texas, Amanda, who wanted to have a child. She was going through fertility treatments to have a baby. Her baby was dying in her womb. She lives in Texas and therefore could not get help to end the pregnancy in a safe way. Because of the Texas laws, she had to stay pregnant, and because she had to stay pregnant, she went into sepsis and almost died.

This is not a single story. I just had someone who’s very close to my office who was pregnant, who wanted to be pregnant but started having a miscarriage. She went to her hospital and they said, ‘We cannot help you.’ She had to travel miles while she was miscarrying to access to care. This is dangerous.

We don’t have family paid leave. We don’t have sick leave. We don’t have the ability for a mom to stay home and nurture her baby because they don’t have family leave, and then, of course, we have a childcare crisis. If you’re going to have to have this child, there’s no help for you. If you want to keep earning money so you can take care of this child, we don’t even have childcare to help you.

We have too many things wrong in this country that the Dobbs decision has made a thousand times worse.

Almost all the women I talk to use the word ‘fear.’ ‘I feared my boss would find out.’ ‘I feared my commanding officer would find out.’ ‘I feared my family would find out … that they could be arrested.’ This is horrific.

Sen. Murray

Baker: We’re here a year after Dobbs, with whole swaths of the country living under bans or near bans. What’s your overall assessment of where we are?

Murray: I am frightened by the fact that 22 million women and counting have now lost access to abortion care. It’s a healthcare crisis in this country. We’re going back to the days when women died, when women had horrible healthcare that injured them for the rest of their lives. People condemned women who got pregnant outside of marriage. They were sent to asylums. I am fearful of the compounding things that are happening to women in this country.

I’ll share one story with you.

I talked to a young woman who lives in a state where abortion is banned. She is in college and got pregnant because of rape. She knew she had to get an abortion. She said she couldn’t talk to her closest friends as she struggled with the biggest issue facing her—trying to find a provider—because she was worried they would get arrested.

Almost all the women I talk to use the word “fear.” I feared that my boss would find out. I feared that my commanding officer would find out. I feared that my family would find out. I feared that it would put them in jeopardy if they found out, that they could be arrested. This is horrific.

We have to make sure that people understand the implications of what’s happening here. Before Roe was ripped away from us, women just assumed that if they got pregnant, there would be a place they could go and get help, which was by and large mostly true. Now women everywhere understand that that is not a given. We have to make sure they understand that this could happen to them. It could happen to your sister, your best friends, people in your family, your next-door neighbors, people you love and care about. If we don’t stand up and fight back and codify Roe into law, it will be your story that is being told.

Baker: In midterm elections in 2022, abortion was a key issue for many voters, especially women and young people. Do you think abortion will be an important issue in the 2024 elections?

Murray: There is no doubt in my mind. We are seeing more and more state legislatures enacting horrific laws, courts making terrible decisions, things like mifepristone being threatened to be pulled from the market after 20 years of use in this country. I don’t think women are going to sit home and be silent. I think they’re going to stand up and fight back. I know they are.

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.