With reproductive rights in peril across the US and a draft supreme court ruling that would overturn Roe v Wade, California is working to further enshrine abortion rights and expand access in anticipation of a surge of people seeking care from out of state.
California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has long pledged that the state would become a “sanctuary” for people seeking reproductive care if the supreme court were to overturn the 1973 case that guaranteed the right to abortion. After a draft ruling leaked showing the court may have decided to do just that, Newsom said he and state leaders were proposing an amendment that would “enshrine the right to choose” in California’s constitution. State lawmakers are currently considering recommendations from a council tasked to finding solutions in case Roe is overturned.
“We can’t trust Scotus to protect the right to abortion, so we’ll do it ourselves,” Newsom said on Twitter. “Women will remain protected here.”
In the draft ruling, obtained by Politico in the biggest leak in the modern history of the supreme court, Justice Samuel Alito describes Roe as “egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences”. The court confirmed the authenticity of the draft, but said it did not “represent a decision by the court or the final position of any member”.
The potential decision has shaken the country, where abortion has been legal for nearly 50 years but under constant threat as Republican states significantly reduced access and sought to ban the procedure entirely. The majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal and news of the draft ruling has prompted protests and widespread outrage.
If the court ultimately decides to overturn Roe v Wade, more than half of US states will outlaw abortion, closing abortion clinics for 41% of women of reproductive age and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to travel elsewhere to obtain the procedure. Experts warn some states may attempt to ban people from traveling for abortions.
States where abortion would remain legal such as California would be significantly affected if Roe were to fall, with a major influx of out-of-state patients that could increase wait times for abortions. The state has already reported seeing more patients since Texas banned abortions after six weeks. California could see an almost 3,000% increase in the number of people whose nearest legal abortion provider is in the state, which could increase the annual patient load from 46,000 people to 1.4 million with many patients coming from as near as Arizona, according to a Guttmacher Institute report.
Jodi Hicks, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said the draft ruling is a “nightmare scenario”.
Dianne Feinstein, California’s Democratic senator, warned if the court overturns Roe “women will be harmed and some will die. It happened before Roe became the law of the land and it will happen again, particularly since this decision will harm low-income and at-risk women more than anyone.”
California has already taken steps to navigate a post-Roe world. Last year, Newsom commissioned the California Future of Abortion Council, made up of more than 40 abortion providers and advocacy groups, which released a list of 45 recommendations for the state to consider if the court overturns Roe.
The recommendations, some of which are part of legislation under consideration by state lawmakers, included creating a fund to support care for low-income Californians and people traveling from out of state to obtain abortions.
Newsom signed legislation in March prohibiting health plans and insurers from charging people a copay or deductible for abortion and abortion-related services.
The president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, Sue Dunlap, told CalMatters that her organization has been preparing for this moment by expanding and moving facilities near airports and other transit centers and supportive medical providers.
Several Democratic states had already taken steps to affirm reproductive rights in anticipation of the court’s decision. Earlier this year, New Jersey passed a law enshrining the right to abortion into state law. In Vermont, voters are expected to approve a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to abortion and contraception later this year.
After news of the decision, governors across the US said their states would continue to ensure abortion is safe and legal. Kate Brown, the governor of Oregon, said Monday on Twitter that abortion is protected by state law in Oregon. “We will fight to keep it that way, no matter what this supreme court decides,” she said. JB Pritzker, the Illinois governor, said the state would remain a haven for people seeking reproductive care. The Vermont governor, Republican Phil Scott, said the “fundamental rights and liberties of all women will be defended, protected and preserved in Vermont”.