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California plans to be abortion sanctuary if Roe vs. Wade is overturned

People in pink shirts hold signs in support of abortion rights at a rally outside the state Capitol in Sacramento
Abortion-rights supporters rally at the state Capitol in Sacramento in 2019. On Wednesday, a group of abortion providers and advocacy groups recommended that California use public money to help people come here from other states for abortion services should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

With more than two dozen states poised to ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court gives them the OK next year, California clinics and their allies in the state Legislature on Wednesday revealed a plan to make the state a “sanctuary” for those seeking reproductive care, including possibly paying for travel, lodging and procedures for people from other states.

The California Future of Abortion Council, made up of more than 40 abortion providers and advocacy groups, released a list of 45 recommendations for the state to consider if the high court overturns Roe vs. Wade — the 48-year-old decision that forbids states from outlawing abortion.

The recommendations are more than wild ideas. Some of the state’s most important policymakers helped write them, including Toni Atkins, the San Diego Democrat who leads the state Senate and attended multiple meetings.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom started the group himself, and in an interview last week with the Associated Press said some of the report’s details will be included in his budget proposal in January.

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Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the most important abortion case to come before the Supreme Court in almost three decades.

“We’ll be a sanctuary,” Newsom said, adding he’s aware patients will likely travel to California from other states to seek abortions. “We are looking at ways to support that inevitability and looking at ways to expand our protections.”

California already pays for abortions for many low-income residents through Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. And California is one of six states that require private insurance companies to cover abortions, although many patients still end up paying deductibles and co-payments.

But money won’t be a problem for state-funded abortion services for patients from other states. California’s coffers have soared throughout the pandemic, fueling a record budget surplus this year. Next year, the state’s independent Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts California will have a surplus of about $31 billion.

California’s affiliates of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, got a preview of how people seeking abortions outside their home states would react this year when a Texas law that outlawed abortion after six weeks of pregnancy was allowed to take effect. California clinics reported a slight increase in patients from Texas.

Now, California abortion providers are asking California to make it easier for those people to get to the state.

The report recommends funding — including public spending — to support patients seeking abortion for travel expenses such as gas, lodging, transportation and child care. It asks lawmakers to reimburse abortion providers for services to those who can’t afford to pay — including those who travel to California from other states whose income is low enough that they would qualify for Medi-Cal benefits.

It’s unclear about how many people would come to California for abortions if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. But a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, estimated about 1.3 million more women would drive to California to seek abortions. The institute predicts most of them would come from Arizona, which already has a law on the books that would outlaw abortion once it becomes legal to do so.

“That will definitely destabilize the abortion provider network,” said Fabiola Carrion, interim director for reproductive and sexual health at the National Health Law Program.

That’s why the report asks lawmakers to give scholarships to medical students who pledge to offer abortion services in rural areas, help them pay off their student loans and assist with their monthly liability insurance premiums.

“We’re looking at how to build capacity and build workforce,” said Jodi Hicks, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. “It will take a partnership and investment with the state.”

Abortion opponents in California, meanwhile, are also preparing for a potential surge of patients from other states seeking the procedure — only they hope to persuade them not to do it.

The reversal of a woman’s right to control her body, undergirded by religious fervor, moves the conversation away from partisan politics to being Taliban-adjacent.

Jonathan Keller, president and CEO of the California Family Council, said California has about 160 pregnancy resource centers whose aim is to persuade women not to get abortions. He said about half of those centers are medical clinics, while the rest are faith-based counseling centers.

Many of the centers are located near abortion clinics in an attempt to entice people to seek their counseling before opting to end pregnancies. Keller said many are already planning on increasing their staffing if California gets an increase of patients.

“Even if we are not facing any immediate legislative opportunities or legislative victories, it’s a reminder that the work of changing hearts and minds and also providing real support and resources to women facing unplanned pregnancies — that work will always continue,” Keller said.

He added: “In many ways, that work is going to be even more important, both in light of Supreme Court’s decision and in light of whatever Sacramento decides they are going to do in response.”


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