California Positions Itself as a ‘Refuge’ of Abortion Rights

Political leaders in California said on Wednesday that they would work to make the state a sanctuary for women seeking abortions if a Supreme Court ruling allows the procedure to be banned in more conservative parts of the country.

The proposal, which was released with the backing of Gov. Gavin Newsom and the leaders of California’s two legislative chambers, calls for increasing funding for abortion providers and dozens of other measures to make it easier for clients to access abortion services and providers to get paid. It also includes a recommendation to fund the procedure for low-income women who come to California for abortion services.

Toni G. Atkins, the head of California’s Senate, whose office helped prepare the proposal, said the details of how abortions would be funded for out-of-state women would have to be negotiated in the State Legislature next year but could be a mixture of state and private funds.

“We consider this an incredibly critical moment in the history of women’s rights,” Ms. Atkins said in an interview. “We want to let people know that we are going to be part of the solution, that we are a beacon.”

California’s proposals have been partly spurred by developments at the bitterly divided U.S. Supreme Court, which last week appeared to be on the verge of upholding a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a ruling expected next year that could reverberate across the country.

Many of the recommendations in the proposal call for increased funding of abortion services regardless of how the Supreme Court decides. But political leaders recognize that the state could see much greater strain on abortion providers if the court rules to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Twenty-one states have anti-abortion laws already in place that could be put in effect if Roe is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that advocates abortion rights.

Anti-abortion activists were unsparing in their criticism of California’s efforts. Lila Rose, the California-based president of Live Action, an anti-abortion group, said the state’s proposal was evil. “More like a slaughter house than a sanctuary,” she wrote on Twitter. “Horrific.”

Mary Rose Short, the director of outreach for California Right to Life, an organization that is against terminating pregnancies and tries to change the minds of women who are headed to abortion clinics, said the proposal to fund abortions for out-of-state women showed that California prioritized abortion over childbirth.

“We are ignoring any woman who would like to give birth but feels financially constrained,” Ms. Short said.

Toni G. Atkins, the head of California’s Senate, said the details of how abortions would be funded for out-of-state women would have to be negotiated in the State Legislature.Credit…Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

About 15 percent of the nation’s abortions are performed in California, slightly more than the state’s 12 percent share of the national population. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that the number of abortions performed in California could increase significantly if Roe is overturned.

Ms. Atkins, who represents San Diego and began her career at a women’s health center, says California has for decades been accustomed to providing abortion services to women from Mexico, where abortion was decriminalized in September.

She said she was “incredibly optimistic” that the Legislature would increase state funds for abortion services next year. Medi-Cal, the state’s medical system for low-income residents, covers nearly half of all abortions performed in the state.

Erin Mellon, the acting communications director for Mr. Newsom, said it was too early to comment on whether the governor’s proposed budget next year would include such funding.

Ms. Mellon referred to comments Mr. Newsom made this month where he said California was a “place of refuge.”

“Not only for 40 million Californians but also for women and girls all across this country and will remain so proudly,” Mr. Newsom said.

Two years ago Mr. Newsom issued an official proclamation that California was a “reproductive freedom state.”

The recent report was prepared by Ms. Atkins’s office in partnership with reproductive health organizations such as Planned Parenthood that teamed together under an umbrella group called the California Future of Abortion Council.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the head of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, Jodi Hicks, said her organization had “already been feeling the impact of restrictive abortion laws,” serving 7,000 out-of-state clients over the past year, including patients from Texas after a law went into effect three months ago that essentially banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

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