State Council Recommends Making California an Abortion 'Sanctuary' if Supreme Court Overturns Roe

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A person holds a sign that says 'PROTECT SAFE, LEGAL ABORTIONS'
Abortion-rights advocates in West Hollywood rally on May 21, 2019, in a protest against the many states seeking to restrict access to the procedure. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

If people can't access abortion services in their own states, California should help fund their travel here to get the services they need.

That's according to a report released Wednesday by a council convened by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which issued 45 recommendations for expanding abortion access both for California residents and those living elsewhere.

With more than two dozen states poised to ban abortion next year if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, California clinics and their allies in the state Legislature are pushing to make the state a "sanctuary" for people seeking reproductive care, including possibly paying for travel, lodging and procedures for out-of-state patients.

Earlier this month, the court heard oral arguments in a case questioning whether a Mississippi state ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy is constitutional. The court appears likely to rule in favor of Mississippi, effectively overturning Roe, which allows for abortion procedures up until a fetus is deemed viable — usually around 24 weeks.

Recognizing there could soon be an estimated 3,000% increase in people from out of state traveling to California for abortions — from about 46,000 now to an anticipated 1.4 million, according to one analysis — the report also recommends steeply increasing funding for abortion clinics across the state.

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

The recommendations from the California Future of Abortion Council, which Newsom convened earlier this year, likely will carry weight in a state with a Democratic supermajority that has already expanded abortion access multiple times.

In an interview last week with The Associated Press, Newsom said some of the report's details will be included in his budget proposal in January.

"We'll be a sanctuary," he said. "We are looking at ways to support that inevitability and looking at ways to expand our protections."

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

Jodi Hicks, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, which was involved in the council, said California abortion clinics already have seen an increase in patients from Texas, since that state recently implemented a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

"In September, once SB 8 [in Texas] went into effect, we realized that California was already seeing the impact and the effects of just one state banning access to abortion," she said. "We know at Planned Parenthood, we were receiving an average of one to two patients [from Texas] a day."

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Because of the sheer number of states likely to ban abortions, Hicks said, the council is also recommending stronger legal protections for patients and providers — particularly out of concern that some states may seek to punish patients traveling to California.

"If we're imagining a scenario where 26 states are going to craft abortion bans in very different ways, it was important that our providers had legal protections in place," Hicks said, noting that some changes can be implemented as budget requests while others will need to be enacted through legislation.

"We’re looking at how to build capacity and build workforce," she added. "It will take a partnership and investment with the state."

The council also recommends increasing training opportunities for reproductive health clinics to ensure that more of them can actually perform abortions.

Additionally, the report highlights the need to increase abortion training for people of color and those in other marginalized communities who have historically faced barriers in becoming abortion providers, and suggests steps to expand training opportunities.

Hicks said the council's recommendations include a mix of immediate actions and longer-term proposals.

"We tried to make this really aspirational, not just to meet an immediate need, but to really look to the future, and [identify] barriers that have existed for quite some time, even within California," she said, "and how we can address all of those."

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

Jonathan Keller, president and CEO of the California Family Council, said California has about 160 pregnancy resource centers whose aim is to convince people 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 as part of a strategy to entice people to seek their counsel before opting to end pregnancies. Keller said many of these centers are already planning on increasing their staffing if there is a sharp increase in patients coming to California.

“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,” he said.

This post includes reporting from Adam Beam of The Associated Press.