Source: Written by Lisa Krieger for Bay Area News Group
Long before the Supreme Court’s bombshell decision Friday overturning Roe v. Wade, transforming reproductive rights for the first time in 50 years, California had laws protecting access to an abortion within its own borders.
Now, with Friday’s ruling, Democratic leaders are rapidly moving to shore up and expand access to abortion during this year’s legislative session, taking steps to protect doctors and secure the state’s “safe harbor” for those seeking abortions.
Legal experts predict courtroom battles between California and other states over whether doctors can be sued or prosecuted. Legislation would protect providers and further safeguard access to the procedure for Californians and an expected influx of out-of-state patients, they said.
But they also warn that Californians could be vulnerable to restrictions if a future Congress aims to whittle access.
“Nothing protects us from action that Congress might take to restrict reproductive rights,” said Donna Crane, adjunct professor, Department of Political Science at San Jose State University and former vice president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Because of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, she said, “we cannot protect ourselves from a government at the federal level that’s intent on taking our rights away.”
Critics such as the California Family Council say that California lawmakers are promoting “abortion tourism” and fiercely oppose the use of taxpayer funds to expand access to the procedure. Such efforts will incentivize more California women to get abortions and encourage out-of-state residents to come to the state for the procedure, they warn.
Vowing a “West Coast offensive,” Gov. Gavin Newsom, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a multi-state commitment on Friday afternoon to defend access to reproductive health care and protect patients and medical professionals.
At a press conference, Newsom signed a bill that prevents civil actions from other states against those in California who receive, perform or aid in abortion services. Assembly Bill 1666, sponsored by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda, protects doctors, nurses, Uber drivers and others from civil liability judgments based on claims made in anti-abortion states.
Also on Friday, leaders reaffirmed the effort to get an amendment to the state constitution that would prohibit the state government from denying or interfering with a person’s decision to have an abortion or use contraceptives. It’s a two-step process. First, the Senate and Assembly would need to pass the amendment with a two-thirds vote. Then it would be put on November’s general election ballot, where it would need support from a majority of voters.
The state is also providing millions of dollars in grants to providers and health clinics that offer reproductive services for Californians and out-of-state patients.
The efforts are part of a larger package of 15 bills and budget proposals to expand abortion services. Most have passed the state Assembly but still need to go before the state Senate. They are based on recommendations from the Future of Abortion Council, a coalition of reproductive rights, health and justice groups.
• AB 1918 creates the California Reproductive Health Service Corps in the Department of Health Care Access and Information. It creates more reproductive health providers by recruiting, training and retaining teams assigned to work in underserved areas. It has passed the Assembly 65-16 and is now in a Senate committee.
• AB 2091 enhances privacy protections for abortion-related medical records and ensures that they cannot be subpoenaed by law enforcement or out-of-state-claims. It has passed the Assembly 54-16 and is pending in the Senate Health Committee.
• AB 2626 protects doctors, midwives, nurse practitioners and physician assistants by preventing professional boards from revoking or suspending a license for providing lawful abortion care in California or in other states. After clearing the Assembly 76-0, it is awaiting action in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
If a patient in a state with severe restrictions seeks out my help to obtain safe abortion care, I would feel compelled to help them,” tweeted Dr. Daniel Grossman, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UC San Francisco. “AB 2626 would help ensure that my medical license would not be suspended or revoked simply because I provided abortion care that is otherwise legal and safe here in California.”
• AB 2134 establishes the California Reproductive Health Equity Program to provide state-paid abortion and contraception coverage for those who seek care in California and whose household income is at or below 400% of federal poverty level. It passed the Assembly 53-19 and is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
• SB 1142 creates a “one-stop shop” internet webpage under California’s Department of Health and Human Services that features links for abortion care, post-operation resources, abortion financial support services and health care service resources. After passing the Senate 29-9, the bill awaits action in an Assembly committee.
• AB 2223 would ensure that no one in the state will be investigated, prosecuted or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy or experiencing pregnancy loss. The bill passed the Assembly 48-21 and is pending in the Senate Health Committee.
• SB 1375 would allow nurse practitioners to more easily work independently of a doctor and perform abortions. Passing the Senate 30-9, it now waits in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
At a Friday press conference, Newsom vowed to sign the bills if they reach his desk, saying “they will advance our values. … California can play an outsized role at this moment.”