After fall of Roe, California expands abortion protections
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Legislature wrapped up its work on Wednesday after approving more than a dozen bills to make it easier for people to get an abortion, a show of force that was the result of more than a year of careful planning meant to stake the state’s claim as a sanctuary for women after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Lawmakers passed 15 bills plus approved $200 million in new spending to bolster the state’s already robust abortion protections. The flurry of activity isn’t over, as voters will decide in November whether to make abortion a constitutional right in the nation’s most populous state.
The bills easily made it through the Democratic-dominated Legislature and some have already become law. Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign most of the rest before the end of the month.
Over the next few years, the state will funnel millions of dollars to clinics to cover the cost of abortions for women who can’t afford them — including women who are living in the country without legal permission. It has pledged to spend up to $20 million to bring women to California from other states for abortions, covering expenses like travel, lodging and child care.
California will block enforcement within the state of other states’ abortion bans, including a Texas law that lets people sue anyone who performs or aids an abortion on a woman from that state. It will also stop police departments and corporations from complying with out-of-state subpoenas or other requests for information about abortions legally obtained in California.
Women with private insurance won’t pay co-pays for abortions, while religious employers who don’t cover the cost of abortions through insurance would be forced to provide their workers a list of publicly available reproductive services.
“None of it was a knee-jerk reaction that was trying to do legislation in any kind of performative way,” said Jodi Hicks, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. “All of it was very well thought out ahead of time with a group of experts.”
Abortion foes are preparing to respond, with California Family Council President Jonathan Keller saying the group is “exploring all of our legal and procedural options.” Keller said the bill forcing religious employers to give lists of abortion services is “really ripe for a Supreme Court challenge,” citing a previous California law the courts struck down that required crisis pregnancy centers to alert clients to publicly available abortion options.
“California is not offering (women) a free plane ticket and a free hotel room to come to California and deliver their baby or come to California and get prenatal care,” Keller said. “They are literally saying we will fly you here but only if you make the choice that is the government-approved decision for your pregnancy. I think a lot of people … see some hypocrisy there.”
State Sen. Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego and the Senate’s top leader, said deciding whether to get an abortion is “profoundly personal.” Atkins worked at an abortion clinic in San Diego, where she said most of her clients chose to get abortions but some did not once presented with all of their options.
“Women need support for whatever they decide they need to do, and they need to be able to talk to their health care provider, their advocate, to get that information and be directed to where they need to go,” she said. “People don’t want to think about having an abortion every day. … I think people should have the luxury not to have to think about this, unless it becomes something they need.”
The abortion bill that got the most attention in California aims to stop prosecutors from charging women with murder for having stillbirths because of drug use or other issues before birth. If prosecutors charge them anyway, the legislation would let women sue them for damages.
Democrats amended the bill to make clear it only prevented prosecutions for pregnancy losses that occurred “in utero.” But abortion foes said the bill was too broad and would prevent coroners from investigating some infant deaths.
“This bill’s true purpose is to cover up the crime of a botched abortion or self-induced abortion,” said Republican Sen. Shannon Grove.
Lawmakers likely aren’t finished passing abortion bills. Atkins said she feels that California is still “in the process” of responding to the end of federal abortion protections, adding that many communities in California still don’t have abortion providers.
“The goal is to make sure that every county in every community has coverage,” Atkins said. “We are starting to see more women, and it’s going to cause others to have to wait.”