Democratic governors are 'last line of defense' for abortion

Democratic leaders in states from California to North Carolina are pledging to protect reproductive rights and to help women who travel to seek abortions after the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

Democratic leaders across the nation vowed Friday to help women who travel to their states seeking abortions and to shield patients and medical professionals from being pursued by authorities in states where the procedure becomes outlawed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

On the West Coast, the Democratic governors of California, Washington and Oregon issued a joint “multi-state commitment,” saying they will work together in the effort to defend patients and medical professionals.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper, also a Democrat, emphasized the importance of the November election in the state where the GOP controls the Legislature but lacks veto-proof majorities to outlaw abortion.

“Democratic governors are the last line of defense against these types of extreme bills,” he said.

It was a strategy echoed by President Joe Biden, who told the nation Friday that Democratic victories at the state level in November could thwart efforts to ban abortion.

“Congress must act, and with your vote, you can act,” Biden said.

Newsom announced the West Coast plan in a video statement with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

“No matter who you are or where you come from, Oregon doesn’t turn away anyone seeking health care,” Brown said.

All three states anticipate an influx of people seeking abortions, especially as neighboring conservative states move to outlaw or greatly restrict the procedure.

The governors also pledged to “protect against judicial and local law enforcement cooperation with out-of-state investigations, inquiries and arrests” regarding abortions performed in their states.

Elsewhere, some companies reiterated or announced plans to help pay for employees to travel to other states to get reproductive care.

For example, Seattle-based Starbucks said it will reimburse abortion travel expenses for employees enrolled in its health care plan if a legal provider isn’t available in their home state or within 100 miles of their home.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson also said he will work to ensure his state “welcomes any individual who comes here to access the fundamental right to reproductive justice,” adding that he is “already working to protect medical professionals who are prosecuted in other states for providing essential health care services that are legal and protected in Washington.”

Ferguson says he has a team of 20 staffers working on abortion-access issues.

In California, Democrats who control state government have spent the past year preparing for a post-Roe world. It started in September, when Newsom declared California a "reproductive freedom state” and established a group of abortion rights’ activists to examine California’s abortion laws and figure out how to strengthen them.

The result was a package of 13 bills moving through the Legislature this year.

Oregon has codified the right to an abortion. State law was updated in 2017 and allows for late-term abortions and requires private medical insurance and state Medicaid to cover the procedure. A $15 million fund established by state lawmakers this year covers costs for abortion providers and patients without insurance coverage or traveling from out of state.

The fund also seeks to expand abortion access in Oregon’s rural communities.

Washington and Oregon border Idaho, which following Friday’s ruling will ban abortions except in cases of reported rape or incest, or to protect the mother’s life.

Abortion has been legal in Washington state since a 1970 statewide ballot referendum. Another ballot measure approved by voters in 1991 affirmed a woman’s right to choose physician-performed abortion prior to fetal viability and further expanded and protected access to abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade was overturned.

In California, abortion was outlawed in 1850, except when the life of the mother was in danger. The law changed in 1967 to include abortions in the case of rape, incest or if a woman’s mental health were in danger.

In 1969, the California Supreme Court declared the state’s original abortion law to be unconstitutional but left the 1967 law in place. In 1972 – one year before the Roe v. Wade decision – California voters added a “right to privacy” to the state constitution. Since then, the state Supreme Court has interpreted that right to privacy as a right to access abortion.

Local governments in the states said they were also ready to help protect and provide abortion access. Washington state’s most populous county will devote $1 million in emergency funding to help women traveling to the Seattle area seeking abortions following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said Friday $500,000 will be allocated toward the Northwest Abortion Access Fund. Another $500,000 will go to Public Health – Seattle & King County, which Constantine said will help support the health care system.

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Beam reported from Sacramento, California.

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Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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