California organizations are bracing for the erosion of abortion access in the United States in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court case that could lead states to ban or severely restrict access to the procedure.
More than 40 organizations across the state worked together as part of the California Future of Abortion Council, with support from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature, to recommend policies to make the pregnancy-ending procedure more accessible and affordable.
“When I ran clinic services for a women’s health center, I saw countless individuals who needed information, services, and support,” state Sen. President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said in a press release about the council’s recommendations. “Working with the FAB Council, my colleagues and I will ensure Californians and people from every state can get the reproductive health services they need in a safe and timely way – and that all our rights remain enshrined in law.”
The council, which coalesced in September, recommended a seven-pronged policy approach to bolster access, education and privacy around the procedure in a report released on Wednesday.
Council members — who hail from the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, ACCESS REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE, NARAL Pro-Choice California and other organizations — cautioned that the court could overturn the legal precedent that prohibited states from barring abortion until fetal viability, set by Roe v. Wade in 1973 and affirmed by Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. A fetus is considered to be viable when survival outside the womb is probable, around 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, centers around a 2018 Mississippi law that would bar most people from accessing an abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It was blocked by a lower court before it could go into effect. Lawyers for Mississippi want the court to go further and allow states to limit abortion entirely.
Advocates said that Supreme Court Justices were signaling support for Mississippi during oral arguments this month. The court is expected to announce a decision this summer.
“As a majority of Supreme Court Justices appear ready to undermine the bodily autonomy of millions and allow extreme abortion restrictions to stand, California can and must go further and do more to ensure that anyone seeking abortion services within our borders can get the care they want, when and where they need it,” Amy Moy, the chief external affairs officer for Essential Health Access, a reproductive health advocacy organization, said in the release.
California’s abortion council recommendations
Given that California is already feeling the effects of other states’ abortion restrictions, coupled with a desire to address other inequities in coverage for people in rural or underserved communities, the council recommended that the state adjust its abortion policy in 45 areas under seven categories:
Increase funding for abortion providers, transportation services, infrastructure and information services that help people access abortions.
Reduce costs for obtaining an abortion and improve reimbursement times for Medi-Cal coverage, regardless of if services are offered in person or through telehealth.
Hire, educate and train more people of color and others who have historically been marginalized from abortion access to become health care providers in this space.
Break down barriers to accessing an abortion by bolstering telehealth initiatives (including across state lines), easing access to abortion later in someone’s pregnancy and increasing patient privacy protections.
Heighten legal support for providers, patients and people and organizations that help someone get an abortion, including for instances of pregnancy loss and self-managed abortion, through stronger confidentiality and protections against lawsuits like the ones being filed through Texas’ recent abortion law.
Back education programs in schools and community organizations to talk about abortion and restrictions.
Research the effectiveness of sexual health education and the impact of medication abortion, which was highlighted through telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic.
California as an abortion hub
People in California would still be able to get an abortion regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision. The state allows people to have an abortion before a fetus reaches viability without restriction. An individual can have an abortion after that if they and their doctor feel their health or life is in danger.
California’s constitution protects the right to privacy, including over a person’s decision to have an abortion. More privacy protections have been added, as Newsom declared that California was a “reproductive freedom state.”
People already drive to the state for abortions. But if the court overturns Roe v. Wade, the number of people coming to California could increase by almost 3,000%, with most of the travelers driving from Arizona, the Guttmacher Institute predicts.
Without Roe v. Wade, 26 states are likely to ban abortion to some extent, according to the institute, which supports abortion rights. Twelve of those states have “trigger bans” that would bar abortion immediately.
Other states’ laws impact California
The council’s report, which mentioned that the coalition would continue to assess abortion provisions, recommended that the state update policies regardless of what the Supreme Court decides as states like Texas pass abortion restrictions that are designed to evade Roe v. Wade.
Texas’ law deputizes citizens, rather than the state, to file lawsuits against providers who offer abortions to people once fetal cardiac activity is detectable, usually around six weeks of pregnancy.
Threats of lawsuits have already dissuaded people from helping someone seek an abortion. And Republican officials in other states have suggested they want to mimic the law.
“Planned Parenthood health centers throughout California have already been feeling the impact of restrictive abortion laws — serving 7,000 out-of-state people in the prior year as well as seeing patients from Texas in the weeks after Senate Bill 8 went into effect,” Jodi Hicks, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said in the release.
“There is no question these recommendations are what we need to best prepare the state and health centers for the dramatic increase our state could see should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the Supreme Court,” she said.