California Reduces Cost for Abortions That Use Private Insurance in Response to Other States' Proposed Restrictions

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A pro-life activist stands in front of pro-choice activists carrying signs declaring positions for either side of the abortion rights debate.
An anti-abortion rights activist stands in front of abortion rights activists with the National Organization for Women at a vigil outside the U.S. Supreme Court on January 23, 2012, in Washington, D.C. The vigil was held to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion.  (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Update Friday, June 24: The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was announced on June 24, overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion.

California guarantees the right to abortion in statute and the state constitution. Our state’s abortion laws are the strongest in the United States. Both officials and abortion providers have made it very clear that abortion access in California will not change because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. Read more about the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Original story continues:

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new law Tuesday, March 22 to make abortions cheaper for people on private insurance plans, the first of more than a dozen bills the state's Democratic leaders plan to pass this year to prepare for a potential U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could overturn Roe v. Wade.

The new conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling that banned states from outlawing abortion.

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If they do, at least 26 states are likely either to ban abortion outright or severely limit access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports abortion rights.

That would force many pregnant people to travel to other states to get abortions, prompting Democratic-led states like California to propose and pass new laws to prepare for them.

Last week, Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law aimed at banning legal action against people who aid or receive an abortion, a measure responding to the Texas law that lets people sue abortion providers or those who assist them.

Oregon lawmakers included $15 million in their state budget to help pay for people to travel to the state to get abortions.

California has a similar bill, one of 14 proposals aimed at expanding and protecting access to abortion in the nation's most populous state. The bills were inspired by a report from the California Future of Abortion Council, a group Newsom convened last year to advise him on how to respond if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

“We're looking at 26 states that will introduce some sort of ban and restriction on abortion, so you have the other half of the country that will need to prepare for how we take care of those patients,” said Jodi Hicks, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. “We're all imagining and trying to prepare correctly for what that impact will be.”

California already requires health insurance companies to cover abortions. But insurers often charge things like co-pays and deductibles that can add an average of $543 to the cost of a medication abortion and $887 to the cost of a procedural abortion, according to an analysis by the California Health Benefits Review Program.

The law Newsom signed on Tuesday eliminates those fees. While the law will make abortions cheaper, it also will slightly increase monthly premiums for patients and their employers.

But the savings from eliminating the fees will be greater than the increased premiums, also according to an analysis by the California Health Benefits Review Program.

The law, authored by state Sen. Lena Gonzalez, makes California the fourth state to ban the fees, joining Illinois, New York and Oregon.

"As states across the country attempt to move us backwards by restricting fundamental reproductive rights, California continues to protect and advance reproductive freedom for all,” Newsom said.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide this summer whether to uphold a law in Mississippi that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. During a public hearing on the case last year, a majority of justices indicated they were willing to uphold the law and even overturn Roe v. Wade.

That case prompted swift action in state legislatures across the country. Last week, lawmakers in Idaho sent a bill to the governor that would ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. In Missouri, lawmakers introduced a bill that would make it illegal for the state's residents to get abortions in other states.

States like California, however, are drafting proposals to counter those measures. They include bills to ban disclosing abortion medical records to police or other out-of-state entities and protect patients and providers from civil liability.

The measures would expand California's abortion workforce, allowing some nurse practitioners to perform the procedure without the supervision of doctors and setting up a scholarship program for people studying reproductive health who agree to work in underserved areas.

And they would set up funds that would help pay for people to get abortions, including compensating providers who provide free care to patients with lower incomes and assisting with travel, lodging and child care for women seeking the procedure in California.

“This legislative package is robust, it's bold, it's responsive and it's innovative, and that's exactly what we need right now,” said Amy Moy, chief external affairs officer for Essential Access Health and a member of the steering committee for the Future of Abortion Council.

She added, "We have a unique opportunity and a pressing responsibility to make sure that anyone seeking time-sensitive and potentially life-changing abortion care within our state's borders can do so with dignity and respect and safety."

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So how likely is it that people would actually come to California from other states to get abortions? Of the three states California shares a border with, Arizona poses the greatest risk to abortion access for the people who live there.

That’s because Arizona has an abortion ban that preexists Roe v. Wade and that has never been taken off the books. It hasn’t been enforced since the constitutional right to an abortion was established in 1973, but if Roe is repealed, abortion rights advocates worry the ban could become enforceable again. If reenforced, the law would carry a minimum two-year prison sentence for anyone who “provides, supplies, or administers” an abortion. Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey, has taken a staunch anti-abortion rights stance while in office.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, if Arizona were to maintain their abortion ban, 85% of women in Arizona of reproductive age, numbering more than 1.3 million, would find their closest abortion clinic in California. The average one-way driving distance for people seeking this care would be 251 miles.

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KQED's Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman contributed reporting to this story.