While half the country moves to ban or limit abortion, California pushes to expand access and protect providers.
Even as the Supreme Court’s move to strike down Roe vs. Wade ended the nation’s old rules on abortion, it created a new reality — America is about to become a split country when it comes to a woman’s right to choose.
And in the new, post-Roe world, California will be a central player as the nation’s biggest provider of abortions and related reproductive health care.
Though the trend has been building for years, the forces that figure to kick it into a higher gear only took shape with the Supreme Court ruling announced early Friday, June 24.
In that ruling, a 5-4 majority voted to overturn Roe, instantly taking away a 49-year-old national right that had allowed women across the country to choose to end their pregnancies via legal abortion.
But the court didn’t ban abortion. Instead, the conservative majority said states are free to create abortion rules without the standards established by Roe, meaning states are free to outlaw or severely limit the practice — or expand it — as they see fit.
If you’re wondering what’s new about that you’re not alone. Most experts say a flurry of new legislation will simply produce an exaggerated version of what already exists in the United States — a varied patchwork of abortion laws based on the politics of a woman’s home state.
Now, however, the differences could change lives.
By the end of the day Friday, just hours after the ruling became public, nine states had announced that their so-called “trigger” bans were in place, meaning abortion is already a crime in those states. Within a month that list is expected to grow to 13 states and by the end of the year abortion is likely to be banned or severely limited in as many as 26 states.
But many other states, including California, will take a starkly different path.
Here’s a look at how the new rules figure to play out and what they might mean going forward:
What’s expected in California?
“Abortion will remain legal in California. And at Planned Parenthood, we are prepared to serve any woman from any state, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Jon Dunn, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood in Orange and San Bernardino Counties, where the organization plans to add a 10th women’s health clinic by the end of this year.
“That reality isn’t changing as a result of the (Supreme Court) ruling.”
Dunn’s simple declaration — and the standing offer to help women coming here from outside the state — might undersell California’s future role as abortion bans and restrictions take effect around the country.
With Democrats controlling Sacramento, and with a woman’s right to choose a fundamental part of Democratic ideology (and its party platform), state lawmakers have spent part of this year pushing a dozen bills that expand or build upon abortion rules already regarded as the nation’s most lenient.
Opponents of abortion suggest partisan politics, not ideology, is the overriding driver for California’s abortion rules.
“In California, the Democrat supermajority prioritizes delivering a dead baby over carrying a child to term,” said Mary Rose Short, director of outreach for the Napa-based California Right to Life.
Still, the state’s abortion law is based on the basic rule established by Roe — that a pregnancy can be terminated legally until so-called “viability,” or about 24 weeks of gestation. California law allows teens as well as adult women to seek abortions, and it doesn’t require anybody to state a reason for seeking an abortion. Also, abortion in California can be legal after 24 weeks if the pregnancy puts a woman’s health at risk.
None of these rules will change in California even though the Supreme Court now says Roe is no longer a legal standard.
In anticipation of a post-Roe world, California lawmakers have been pitching a variety of new bills to expand access to abortion, protect abortion providers and help women of all backgrounds
One issue: Though California is legally friendly to abortion, the procedure isn’t available in about 40% of the state’s 58 counties, mostly rural areas. A bill from Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, would create a “reproductive health service corps” to change that.
Another bill, from Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would boost the number of nurse practitioners who can help women with first-trimester abortions or monitor women as they go through medically induced abortions, an increasingly popular option.
Some other ideas have been pitched specifically in anticipation of the ruling announced Friday.
These include proposals that, in theory, would offer legal and financial protection for doctors and nurses who treat patients from states where abortion is outlawed, or ban anyone from sharing patient information with people who want to penalize abortion. Yet another would prevent California doctors from being punished by a licensing agency even if they’re sanctioned in another state because they provided an abortion.
Broadly speaking, California leaders are pushing for the state to become a national haven for all women — including those living in places where abortion isn’t legal — who want to terminate their pregnancies.
And California isn’t alone in that. On Friday, hours after the ruling was announced, Gov. Gavin Newsom joined the governors of Washington and Oregon to say that West Coast states would serve as a collective safe zone for women from around the country.
In a video message, Newsom said, “We will not sit on the sidelines and allow patients who seek reproductive care in our states or the doctors that provide that care to be intimidated with criminal prosecution.”
Those could be fighting words for Californians who oppose abortion.
“While our current California legislature will do nothing to legally protect unborn children, we will continue to educate the public about the development of the child in the womb and about the barbaric reality of abortion, in order to change minds, save lives, and hasten the day when every child will be protected by law,” said California Right to Life’s Short.
Will new abortion laws change politics?
Maybe. But, contrary to how the issue is portrayed in the media, abortion hasn’t been a big deal for most voters for much of this century.
While voters on the far right and far left care a lot about abortion access or the right to life, middle-of-the-road voters shrug. In polls that ask voters to rank the most important issues facing the country, abortion typically has ranked lower than questions about economics, terrorism, health care, environment and even gas prices.
However, those surveys were conducted when abortion was legal. Now that Americans no longer have a constitutional right to an abortion — and state governments can require women to give birth against their will — experts say that new reality could create a political role-reversal. Democrats, they argue, could be energized because they’re voting to affect change, while Republicans will have to come up with new hot-button issues that inspire electoral support.
Already, national leaders are testing the idea that abortion will be a motivating political issue.
In a national address on Friday, President Joe Biden urged Congress to pass a law to make abortion legal across the country. But Biden also had a message for possible cross-over voters who favor abortion access, urging them to “elect more senators and representatives to codify a woman’s right to choose into federal law [and] elect more state leaders to protect this right at the local level.”
At about the same time, on the other end of the political spectrum, former Vice President Mike Pence told a smaller crowd in Chicago that the Roe ruling means “life won.” Pence, who reportedly is considering a GOP run for President in 2024, also urged Congress to impose a national ban on abortion.
Democrats hope recent polling that shows growing support for abortion access is accurate and a potential game-changer as soon as November. But guesses on whether or not that will prove to be true are all over the map.
In May, when a draft of the Roe decision was leaked publicly, Adam Probolsky, an Irvine-based pollster and political consultant, believed the issue would almost certainly energize at least Democratic voters as soon as November. Now, he doesn’t.
“I’ve seen nothing in the past two months to suggest that this issue is moving voters,” Probolsky said. “And even now that the ruling is out, I’m not sure there are any Republicans left who would look at this ruling and say ‘Whoa, now, I have to switch.’”
Many of the state bans on abortion don’t carve out exceptions for rape or incest, a stance the strong majorities of voters view as harsh.
Also, for now, many of the anti-abortion laws in place or expected to be approved specifically to say pregnant women should not be targeted as criminals; that prosecutions should focus instead on health providers and others who help a woman end her pregnancy. But there’s nothing to suggest lawmakers will stick to that. And, already, proposals in Louisiana and Wyoming have raised the possibility of prosecuting women for seeking what was, until Friday, legal health care. That concept, too, could be rejected by previously middle-of-the-road voters.
And, bigger picture, national politics could shift if Congress — under Democrats or Republicans — pass a national law favoring their view on abortion.
“Right now, we’re not concerned that the federal rules will change in the near term,” said Dunn, of Planned Parenthood.
“But if the GOP gains control of Congress and the presidency, then (a national ban on abortion) is a risk.
“We certainly hope this issue will be motivating for people who support reproductive rights,” Dunn added. “And we’ll definitely make sure voters understand the differences between candidates who do and don’t favor access to abortion.”
There’s one more wild card: Many observers suggest the Supreme Court majority might look at other rights that are legally similar to abortion — the right to use contraception and the right for same-sex couples to marry — as unconstitutional.
But if those ideas might motivate left-leaning voters and activists in the future, the Supreme Court ruling on Roe issued Friday already is inspiring some conservatives.
Brad Dacus, founder of the Pacific Justice Institute — a Sacramento-based organization that has been described as a Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its stances on LGBTQ issues — said Friday that the Roe ruling is inspiring.
His group, Dacus said, will work to assist state legislatures around the country in implementing laws that restrict access to abortion.
“This is a landmark day for Americans across this great country for the defense of those who cannot defend themselves.”