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With Roe v. Wade in limbo, California lawmakers unveil ‘abortion sanctuary’ package

David Monniaux
Wikimedia Commons

Ahead of the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling which legalized abortion and is now in jeopardy, California Democrats renewed a pledge to make the state a “safe haven” for those seeking an abortion and other reproductive care.

Members of the state’s Legislative Women’s Caucus plan to introduce a handful of bills to expand access to abortion, recruit providers to work in the state, and make the procedure more affordable for residents and non-Californians.

It comes on the heels of a December report highlighting ways the state could reduce barriers to reproductive health care, published as the Supreme Court considers a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade and result in new restrictions in about two dozen states.

“California will not just stand by,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner (D–Berkeley). “We are committed to protecting and providing access to abortion and all reproductive services, not only for Californians, but any who seek refuge here.”

The lawmakers highlighted eight bills they plan to run this year. Numbered bills include:

  •  SB245, which would ban insurers from imposing out-of-pocket costs for an abortion, such as a deductible or co-pay.
  •  AB1666, which would offer civil protections for abortion providers in the state who treat patients from other states.

Other bills, which have not yet been made public, include:

  • A proposed pilot program that would allow counties to direct funds to community clinics that provide reproductive care. Assembly Member Cristina Garcia (D–Bell Gardens), who is authoring the bill, says it would increase access for low-income and marginalized patients.
  • Legislation to create a gap coverage program to ensure Californians who lack coverage for abortion services can get care.
  • A measure that would ban prosecution for abortion or stillbirth. The bill would codify a legal alert from Attorney General Rob Bonta earlier this year, after two women in Kings County were charged with murder in connection to their pregnancy losses. Assembly Member Buffy Wicks (D–Oakland), who has spoken about her own reproductive health experiences online, is authoring the bill.
  • Legislation to create a web page for centralized information on abortion services and support.
  • A bill to ensure abortion patients’ medical records are protected.
  • And a bill to “stabilize and expand the reproductive health and abortion care workforce.”

Jodi Hicks, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said abortion rights “are under attack” across the country.

A law in Texas effectively bans abortion after six weeks and several states have recently introduced similar legislation.

“California will be relied upon by many, many people who will need to seek refuge in our state and receive the care that they need,” if the trend continues, Hicks said.

Jonathan Keller with the anti-abortion California Family Council said it’s unfair to ban insurers from charging cost-sharing for abortion services while other patients pay thousands for medications such as insulin.The state is already looking into manufacturing its own insulin and other generic drugs to lower prices.

“Unfortunately, this seems to be another example of California legislators’ misplaced priorities,” he said, adding that the Legislature should instead focus on issues like the cost of living and crime.

The lawmakers said the package is “a start” and indicated there may be even more legislation introduced later in the session.

Skinner, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, said she is “very optimistic that we will have a very good budget when it comes to ensuring access and protecting reproductive health care and abortion.”

In his proposed state budget plan, Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested allocating $20 million to subsidize reproductive health care for people with Covered California plans, and another $20 million for abortion providers to increase their security.

The governor left the door open for more funding, saying he would work with the legislature on the issue and that he felt a “responsibility to be a national leader in this space.”

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