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California Wants to Be the Nation's Abortion Haven

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Assemblymember Buffy Wicks speaks on the floor of the state Assembly in January 2020. In 2019, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, she told the story of her own abortion. (Krishnia Parker/California State Assembly Democratic Caucus)

While half the states in the U.S. plan to ban or restrict abortion care if and when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, California is positioning itself to be an abortion sanctuary and preparing to welcome patients from around the country.

The state’s Democratic Legislature is considering 13 bills that would: reduce the costs of abortion, make abortions easier to access, and protect people in the state who have an abortion, or who help provide one, from law enforcement action. The governor is pledging $125 million in state funds to back these efforts.

“The goal is to really enshrine and ensure that California is a reproductive freedom state for all,” said Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland.

On the 46th anniversary of Roe, in 2019, Wicks became the first woman to tell her own abortion story on the floor of the California Assembly.

“I was 26 years old, in between jobs and in between homes,” she said in the 2019 speech. “Staying on a friend's couch, unemployed and facing an unplanned pregnancy was a vulnerable time in my life.”


Wicks went on to work for Barack Obama for six years, then later won her seat in California’s Legislature. She’s now 44 and has two young daughters.

“For me, having an abortion was an empowering decision, one that I have never regretted,” she said.

Her personal reproductive health needs have continued to influence her work. One day last September, she was preparing lunch at her kitchen counter, chopping lettuce, carrots and avocado, when she felt a sudden wave of severe cramping in her abdomen. Then she started bleeding — a lot. She rushed to her doctor.

"Turns out, I was pregnant and having a miscarriage. And [my doctor] said, 'We need to do an emergency abortion procedure, a D and C,'" Wicks said, referring to the medical procedure that is used for both abortion and miscarriage.

This was all happening right after Texas banned abortions after 6 weeks and allowed members of the public to sue physicians who performed them. Wicks asked her doctor if she would have been able to get the procedure she'd just received if she lived in Texas.

The doctor told her, legally, it was permitted because the pregnancy wasn't viable. But in reality, the chilling effect of the law was making doctors too scared to perform these procedures. 

Wicks asked herself what she would have done: Stay home and deal with the potential health implications? Get in a car and drive 10 hours to find care? 

“I mean, I was doubled over in pain,” Wicks said. “And so that compels me to make sure, as a legislator, that I’m doing everything I can to bring voice to the situation.”

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If Roe is overturned, California could see a 3,000% increase in the number of people coming here from out of state for an abortion, from roughly 46,000 to 1.4 million, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute. Wicks is one of several lawmakers working with reproductive health groups on the package of 13 bills aimed at expanding services in anticipation of this spike.

One bill that’s already been signed into law will eliminate co-pays for abortion. Other bills would set aside state money to help people who are traveling from out of state with lodging, travel and child care costs, and to help clinics expand abortion services by adding appointment slots and training more staff.

Several bills are focused on legal protections. The Texas law, SB 8, allows members of the public to sue anyone who helps a person get an abortion, including medical staff or Uber drivers who drive patients to an appointment.

California plans to refuse to help with any such lawsuit by not complying with subpoenas from other states and declining to turn over any health data requested by other states. The bill Wicks authored would ensure no one in California can be prosecuted or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy or experiencing a pregnancy loss.

Health clinics also are shoring up their security, said Lisa Matsubara, general counsel and vice president of policy for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, which worked on several of the bills. In addition to more patients coming from out of state, California is expecting more protestors from out of state.

“We're definitely worried about the change in focus for anti-abortion activists, as they have effectively eliminated access in many states, to then turn their focus to states where abortion is still going to be accessible,” Matsubara said.

Some protestors already have traveled to California. The trucker convoy came to the Bay Area in late April: A stream of semis and pickups sporting American flags parked outside Buffy Wicks’ house to protest her work on legislation supporting abortion care.

“This is a direct assault on humanity,” one protestor shouted through a bullhorn.

Wicks’ neighbors did not welcome the convoy. One woman with long neon-yellow nails gave them the double finger. Other people pelted the trucks with eggs, chanting, “Go home, go home, go home.” Nearly 80% of Californians believe Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.

Buffy Wicks watched the protestors from her window. She says she’s not intimidated and won’t slow down. In fact, she and her colleagues are looking for ways to speed up the work of making California an abortion sanctuary for all.

“It’s out of necessity that we're preparing for this, not necessarily out of desire,” she said. “We want to make sure that we are a place where people can come in their biggest moments of need and get the care that they need.”

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