California, Oregon and Washington Create Coalition to Increase Abortion Access For Those in Other States

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Photographs of governors from Washington, Oregon and California
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (left), Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and California Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged to work together to protect abortion rights and provide access for people from restrictive states who are seeking abortions.  (Getty Images by Karen Ducey, Shannon Finney and Justin Sullivan )

On the same day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, upending five decades of federal protection of abortion rights, the governors of California, Washington and Oregon pledged to protect these rights together.

The three states have formed a new alliance to legally defend people from other states seeking an abortion, and to protect medical providers, too.

"Reproductive freedoms are under attack," said Gov. Gavin Newsom, "that's why California, Oregon and Washington are building the West Coast Offense to protect patients' access to reproductive care."

The Supreme Court's opinion today in Dobbs v. Jackson triggered laws in close to half of U.S. states to restrict abortions. In a speech Friday, President Joe Biden warned that maternal mortality will rise after the judicial decision, which California lawmakers said made the state's efforts even more crucial.

A recent study from the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights advocacy and policy organization, found that, should Roe v. Wade be overturned, California will be the closest state providing abortion care for some 1.4 million people, an almost 3,000% increase.

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In order to help bring vulnerable pregnant people across state lines, California will need to secure funding through state law, an effort already underway. The states have also pledged to refuse non-fugitive law enforcement extradition of people who are being prosecuted for receiving legal abortion services.

But state politicians are also preparing Californians for the realities behind those promises.

"I think it's going to drive many people into very terrible situations with a lack of access to safe and legal abortion," Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, told KQED. "Women's lives are on the line now, and I think it makes the work of places like California all the more important."

And Californians have much at stake, too. The state has historically struggled to provide abortion access to its own citizens, especially people living in rural counties.

Work Within California

As KQED previously reported, a 2017 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that some 40% of mostly rural counties in Californiahome to hundreds of thousands of women in the statehad no clinics that provided abortions. That means even in a state with some of the nation's most progressive abortion laws, many must travel more than 100 miles to find a provider.

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That lack of access for Californians may be addressed, soon.

Several bills are winding through the legislature right now to help enshrine abortion rights in California, protect those who seek and perform abortions or bolster access for people seeking abortions within the state, no matter where they're from. Perhaps chief among those efforts is Senate Bill 1142 from Senators Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, and Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, to create an "Abortion Practical Support Fund" to help abortion-seekers with costs such as travel and child care, and to fund public research into expanding access to reproductive health.

State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins told KQED on Friday that those bills are part of ensuring California's reproductive health rights are guaranteed in every corner of the state.

"The whole purpose for the legislation that you have seen, more than 13 bills, and the money in the budget, is to shore up our foundational health care system because even in California40 million people, 58 countiesnot every county has easy access to actual abortion procedures," Atkins said.

"We already know that we have gaps in health care in California for individuals," she added. "We're trying to do it all to make sure that we are covering bases for Californians, but also for those who are going to come here."

California Attorney General Rob Bonta published a video reminder that abortion is legal in California, adding, "I will continue to use the full force of the law and the full force of my office to ensure this always remains true."

Coalition Promises

Those protections extend up the coast to other Pacific states, too. Newsom, along with the governors of Oregon and Washington — Kate Brown and Jay Inslee — signed a Multi-State Commitment to Reproductive Freedom, which they announced in a statement Friday.

"We'll fight like hell to protect your rights and your safety," Newsom said.

"We're going to work with our legislators, with our providers and with our patient advocates," Gov. Inslee said, "and we're going to expand access to abortion services to the people in need."

"We will resist intrusions by out-of-state prosecutors, law enforcement or vigilantes trying to investigate patients receiving services in our states," Gov. Brown said. "We will not stand on the sidelines."

The governors made these promises, jointly:

  • To protect against states hostile to abortion rights which try to target patients who receive legal healthcare services in the Western states, and healthcare providers who offer it.
  • To protect against out-of-state "investigations, inquiries and arrests" of anyone aiding legal abortion access in Western states.
  • To refuse non-fugitive extradition of people providing legal abortion access or seeking abortions, in cases when other states seek criminal prosecutions.
  • To protect licensed medical professionals who provide reproductive healthcare in Western states from "adverse actions" by liability insurers or licensing boards.
  • To legally defend licensed medical professionals in their efforts to provide reproductive healthcare, "in compliance with state and federal law."
  • To provide more access to abortion services, and to grow the pool of qualified practitioners who may provide abortion.

President Joe Biden directed the Health and Human Services Department to take steps to make sure abortion and contraception medications are available "to the fullest extent possible," and said that his administration plans to protect the right to travel to another state for an abortion.

"The health and life of women of our nation are now at risk," Biden said. "Make no mistake. This decision is the culmination of a deliberate effort over decades to upset the balance of our law."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a Friday press conference that the Dobbs decision will shape how voters evaluate those seeking office this year.

"While Republicans seek to punish and control women, Democrats will keep fighting ferociously to enshrine Roe v. Wade into law of the land," Pelosi said. "This cruel ruling is outrageous and heart-wrenching. But make no mistake, it's all on the ballot in November."

Echoing Pelosi's remarks, Biden added that voters should make their voices heard, calling on them to elect candidates that will restore the right to an abortion at the congressional and local level.

"This fall, Roe is on the ballot. Personal freedoms are on the ballot. The right to privacy, liberty, equalitythey're all on the ballot," Biden said.

Other Constitutional Rights at Risk

Some California lawmakers warned if the state and country are complacent, other rights may soon be at riskincluding same-sex marriage.

That concern is backed up by the legal text of the Supreme Court's opinion.

While past court rulings protecting those rights aren't affected by the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, "in future cases we should reconsider all of this Court's substance due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell."

Those past rulings regarded contraception, sodomy and same-sex marriage, respectively.

State Sen. Sydney Kamlager, D-Los Angeles, called the ruling "Orwellian," and echoed concerns that contraceptives and same-sex marriages are next in the legal crosshairs. State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said that puts the nation at a turning point.

"They're not stopping at abortion. They're coming for marriage equality & contraception. They're going to reinstate anti-sodomy laws," Weiner tweeted Friday. "There is a battle for the soul of our nation [and] whether we'll remain a place where people get to be who we are [and] make decisions about our lives."

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KQED's Scott Shafer, Marisa Lagos, Tyche Hendricks and Alexis Madrigal contributed to this report. NPR's Ximena Bustillo also contributed to this report.