California officials release plan to make state abortion ‘sanctuary’ if Supreme Court overturns Roe

If landmark ruling overturned, more than 20 states could ban abortion care, forcing women who can afford it to travel hundreds of miles to safely access an abortion

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 08 December 2021 19:08
Landmark US Supreme Court Abortion Case Begins

With the fate of constitutional protections for abortion care in the hands of the US Supreme Court, a group of abortion rights advocates and state lawmakers in California have released a plan outlining steps and programmes to turn the state into what Governor Gavin Newsom calls a “sanctuary” for people seeking care.

The California Future of Abortion Council, made up of more than 40 abortion providers and advocacy groups, has released a policy document outlining steps for the state to consider in the event that Roe v Wade – the landmark 1973 ruling that enshrined constitutional protections for abortion care – is overturned.

Roughly half of US states are also prepared to effectively ban the procedure, should the nation’s high court undermine decades of precedent protecting abortion access without excessive government intervention.

“We’ll be a sanctuary,” Governor Newsom told the Associated Press, which first reported the policy document. “We are looking at ways to support that inevitability and looking at ways to expand our protections.”

California is among six states that require private insurance companies to cover the cost of abortions, and it also supports abortion care for lower-income residents through the state’s Medicaid programme.

The report recommends additional public spending to support abortion care, including travel expenses, and reimbursements to abortion providers for those who can’t afford the cost of care, including people who travel to the state who would otherwise qualify for state support under Medicaid if they were residents.

The high court appears ready to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of becoming pregnant. The nine justices on the conservative-majority court presided over roughly two hours of arguments on 1 December in a case that could determine the fate of abortion access for millions of Americans, marking the biggest direct challenge to abortion rights in decades.

A decision in the case is expected by June 2022.

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Overturning rulings in Roe and Planned Parenthood v Casey, a separate ruling that upheld Roe, would immediately or quickly ban all abortion in more than 20 states, forcing women who can afford it to travel hundreds of miles to safely access an abortion.

It remains unclear whether the court’s six conservative justices will uphold the law or go further and undermine Roe entirely by allowing states to impose their own bans at different stages of pregnancy.

“When I ran clinic services for a women's health center, I saw countless individuals who needed information, services, and support,” said California state Senator and Senate president pro tempore Toni Atkins.

“Working with the [council], my colleagues and I will ensure Californians and people from every state can get the reproductive health services they need in a safe and timely way – and that all our rights remain enshrined in law,” she said in a statement. “This is crunch time, but we will not be dragged into the past. California will keep leading for the future.”

The document says it “is imperative that California take the lead, live up to its proclamation as a ‘Reproductive Freedom State,’ and be ready to serve anyone who seeks abortion services in the state.”

It also proposes investments to diversity the state’s abortion provider workforce, reductions to administrative and institutional barriers to abortion care, legal protections for patients and and support organisations, and distribution of medically accurate and inclusive care information, among other measures.

Planned Parenthood centres in California have “already been feeling the impact of restrictive abortion laws” in the US, according to Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California President and CEO Jodi Hicks.

“There is no question these recommendations are what we need to best prepare the state and health centers for the dramatic increase our state could see should Roe v Wade be overturned by the Supreme Court,” she said a statement.

A report from the Guttmacher Institute estimates that out-of-state patients seeking abortion care in California would increase from 46,000 to 1.4m a year, the majority of whom would come from Arizona, where abortion restrictions would effectively outlaw the procedure, if Roe is overturned.

In Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state of Mississippi has pressed the court to dismiss the ruling from Roe as well as Casey, which established a standard that asks whether a state’s abortion law presents an “undue burden,” defined as a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

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