As a growing number of states across the country continue to ravage reproductive rights after the fall of Roe v. Wade, advocates and policymakers in California are sending a message. “We’re becoming not just a haven state sort of in theory, although that’s important,” Jodi Hicks, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said. “But also we’re becoming a state that won’t comply with other states. We just won’t comply.”
California has long held some of the strongest protections for abortion access in the country. But last October, when the Supreme Court first chose not to halt Texas S.B. 8, which bans abortions at six weeks without exception—months before they unraveled federal abortion protections in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the check engine light came on. The impact was immediate as patients from Texas began traveling to California seeking care. And suddenly, Hicks explained, providers were faced with a series of new legal questions regarding their care. Reproductive rights advocates went into overdrive.
In October 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the California Future of Abortion Council would lead the administration’s effort to safeguard reproductive rights in the state. Since then, and at recommendation of the council, Newsom has signed an executive order to prevent the sharing of patient and medical information with other states and signed into law legislation to protect patients and providers from civil liability. The state budget includes $200 million for reproductive health care services. And a raft of other legislation to protect access is working its way through the state legislature. In November, Californians will vote on a ballot measure to strengthen existing protections to include contraception. “We will not aid, we will not abet in their efforts to be punitive, to fine and create fear for those that seek that support,” Newsom said in a press conference the day the Dobbs ruling was released. “We are proud to provide it—and we do.”
“From the fall, we knew that we needed to act quickly in order to protect our state, both for people who are in the state, and because we knew that other people were going to come from other places to get abortion care here,” Fabiola Carrión, the director of Reproductive and Sexual Health at the National Health Law Program’s Los Angeles office, said.
The idea is for California to serve as a bulwark against overzealous attorneys general and others in states with draconian legislation to restrict access. Yet, even despite efforts to brace for the fall of Roe, advocates, providers, and lawmakers are still grappling with the ripple effect of the ruling and the confusion that has followed. “The question you have to ask is, is it safe to be pregnant in those states? I think you’d have to answer, ‘No, it’s not.’ So either you move or you don’t have sex,” California Congresswoman Jackie Speier said in an interview. She had some choice words for the lawmakers pushing these abortion restrictions. “Left out of this equation is the fact that women don’t get pregnant on their own. It’s not an immaculate conception, and yet there is not a peep coming out of anyone about the role of the impregnator,” she said. “Maybe they should just ban sex, if that’s where they wanna go,” Speier said.
It is clear the full impact of the overturning of Roe has yet to come into focus as an increasing number of states introduce new legislation to restrict access. But California has been feeling the impact for months. It’s unclear if people are moving, as Speier suggested, but they’re certainly crossing state lines for medical care. According to data from Planned Parenthood Mar Monte (PPMM)—which serves northern Nevada and mid-California, and includes Speier’s district—during this past fiscal year of July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, the number of patients traveling from out of state doubled compared to the year before. Over a third of these out-of-state patients traveled from Texas, all after Texas S.B. 8 went into effect. And since the Dobbs ruling at the end of June, the PPMM response center has experienced a 17% increase in call volume.
Providers in California are also having to handle a lot of confusion. “Like, one day, Arizonans can get abortion in Arizona and the next day, and the day after that, they can’t. Things are changing really quickly,” Jessica Pinckney, the executive director of Access Reproductive Justice, said in an interview. “I don’t think we’ve reached our peak, but we have seen a significant influx of callers from Texas and Arizona and are starting to see also folks coming from other states where we wouldn’t commonly support—Utah, Wyoming. We’re still supporting majority Californians, but we definitely are seeing an increase in those out-of-state folks.”
But even in a haven state like California, access remains an issue. Andrew Adams, the chief of staff and head of strategic communications for Planned Parenthood, stressed. There are large swaths of rural California where individuals seeking abortion services have to drive hours to receive care.
“I think we have to give everyone some grace around navigating this world because, again, it’s a 50-year precedent,” Hicks said. “So one we’ve been taught very clearly that our legal structure follows precedent and we don’t take civil rights away.”
While California seeks to bridge the chasms of access in this new post-Roe world, advocates are urging clinics in states with abortion bans not to shut their doors. It is critical that other services clinics provide—testing, Pap smears, exams—remain available in states that have stripped abortion rights. “People deserve to be able to access abortion care in their homes, in their communities, in their states. We’re filling a gap until that happens,” Pinckney said. “Eventually the laws will shift and abortion access will hopefully be more available in those states and reopening clinics. Rebuilding clinics does not happen overnight.”