With the prospect of the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, California leaders have been vocal about their determination to maintain the state’s status as a safe haven for individuals seeking abortion and other reproductive health care.
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The California Legislative Women’s Caucus released a 13-bill package in March seeking to strengthen and expand access to abortion. Sen. Nancy Skinner (D–Berkeley), Vice-Chair of the caucus, told State of Reform that the caucus had started collaborating with the Future of Abortion Council on this bill package over 6 months ago in preparation for a possible overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“The Future of Abortion Council … helped us put together [this package of bills] to basically ensure that reproductive access was going to be protected and funded in California,” Skinner said. “But also, to make it clear to people that may need to come to another state [to access this care] that California will serve as a beacon for reproductive justice and reproductive access.”
Below is a list and description of the bills in the package. One of them, SB 245, was recently signed into law, while the rest are still going through the legislative process.
- AB 1666 (Bauer-Kahan): This bill would protect abortion patients and providers in California from civil actions and financial retaliation they may face in the patient or provider’s origin state where providing or obtaining an abortion is illegal, and prohibit this other state’s laws from being applied in California.
- AB 1918 (Petrie-Norris): This bill would establish the California Reproductive Health Service Corps (RHSC) within the Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAI) to recruit, train, and retain a diverse workforce of reproductive health care professionals to work in underserved areas.
- AB 2091 (Bonta): This bill would prohibit a health care provider, a health plan, or a contractor from releasing medical information related to an individual seeking or obtaining an abortion in response to a subpoena or a request if that subpoena or request is based on another state or country’s laws that criminalize abortions.
- AB 2134 (Weber): This bill would establish the California Reproductive Health Equity Program to provide grant funding to safety net providers who offer abortion and contraceptive services to increase access to these services for individuals who lack coverage and cannot pay out-of-pocket costs.
- AB 2205 (Carrillo): This bill would require health plans to annually report the total amount of funds in their accounts and the total amount of claims paid during a reporting year. The bill is designed to identify available state dollars and resources as the state considers options for funding abortion services.
- AB 2223 (Wicks): This bill would ensure that no one in the state will be investigated, prosecuted, or incarcerated for ending or losing a pregnancy.
- AB 2320 (Garcia): This bill would require the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to establish and administer a pilot program to direct funds to community health clinics that provide reproductive health care services in 5 counties that will be selected by DHCS.
- AB 2586 (Garcia): This bill would require the Department of Public Health (DPH) to establish a working group to examine the root causes of reproductive health and sexual health disparities in the state by developing responsive policy recommendations centered in a reproductive justice framework. The group would also support community-based organizations focused on reproductive justice to provide disproportionately impacted community members with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education and resources that include information on abortion care.
- AB 2626 (Calderon): This bill would prohibit the Medical Board of California or the California Osteopathic Medical Board from suspending or revoking the certificate of a provider who performs a legal abortion in California or in other states.
- SB 245 (Gonzalez): This bill, signed into law on March 22, prohibits a health plan or an individual or group policy from imposing a deductible, coinsurance, copayment, or any other cost-sharing requirement on coverage for all abortion and abortion-related services. These requirements are applied to Medi-Cal managed care plans, providers, independent practice associations, preferred provider groups, and all entities that provide physician services, utilization management, or utilization review.
- SB 1142 (Caballero/Skinner): This bill would require the California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS) to establish a website where the public can access information about abortion services. This website will direct individuals to links for abortion care, post-operation resources, financial support services, and health care service resources. The bill also sets up a fund that can help low-income and out-of-state individuals seeking abortion care with practical services such as travel, lodging, childcare, meals, doula support, and translation services.
- SB 1245 (Kamlager): This bill would establish the Los Angeles County Abortion Access Safe Haven Pilot Program to expand and improve access to the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion, in LA County.
- SB 1375 (Atkins): This bill would allow nurse practitioners that meet specified criteria to practice independently without physician supervision. The bill would also authorize nurse practitioners to provide first trimester abortion care without physician supervision.
Skinner said she expects her bill, SB 1142, and a number of other bills in the package, to be at least somewhat funded in the final version of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget on June 15th. In Newsom’s May Revised Budget proposal, he adds $57 million onto the $68 million already included in the January proposal for the expansion of reproductive health services, creating a total funding package of $125 million.
In his May revision, Newsom includes investments in the following:
- “Cover Uncompensated Care for People Uninsured for Abortion Services. $40 million for grants to reproductive health care providers to offset the cost of providing care to low- and moderate-income individuals who do not have health care coverage for abortion care services.
- California Reproductive Justice & Freedom Fund. $15 million for grants to community-based reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations to conduct medically accurate and culturally competent outreach and education on sexual health and reproductive health issues.
- Comprehensive Reproductive Rights Website. $1 million to develop and maintain a website that provides accurate and updated information to the public on the right to abortion under state law, information about reproductive health care providers, and options for coverage for reproductive health services, including state-funded coverage and programs.
- Research on the Unmet Needs for Reproductive Health Care Services. $1 million for research regarding the unmet needs for access to reproductive health care services.”
These new proposed investments build upon investments detailed in the January proposal, including:
- “Invest in Reproductive Health Clinical Infrastructure. To support California’s clinical infrastructure of reproductive health care services, the Blueprint included $20 million to provide scholarships and loan repayments to health care providers that commit to providing reproductive health care services.
- Capital Infrastructure, Improved Security. The Blueprint included $20 million to assist reproductive health care facilities in securing their physical and information technology infrastructure and to enhance facility security.
- Make Reproductive Health Care More Affordable. The Blueprint included $20 million to subsidize the cost of abortion care for Covered California consumers due to federal payment limitations for abortion coverage.
- Remove Barriers for Reproductive Health. To make it easier to get the medical care needed for family planning and reproductive health, the Blueprint removed Medi-Cal requirements for in-person follow-up visits and ultrasounds if not medically necessary.
- Family Planning, Access, Care and Treatment (PACT) HPV Vaccine Coverage. The Blueprint included $8 million to add the human papillomavirus vaccine as a covered benefit under the Family PACT program, effective July 1, 2022.”
Skinner said they would be continuing budget negotiations to include more of the funding for the bill package.
“He already included funding not for everything, but for much of it, so it’s just a matter of negotiations to ensure that we include in the budget the funding that we feel is necessary to fund all of those bills …” Skinner said, “… which we feel are essential to protect people against prosecution to ensure that anyone who needs or chooses to have an abortion and to get other reproductive care can get that care.”
The bill package builds upon legislation strengthening access to reproductive health care already signed by Newsom last year. AB 1356 strengthens protections, both online and at health care facilities, for patients seeking reproductive health care services, and AB 1184 protects the privacy rights of people receiving sensitive health care services, such as reproductive health care and gender-affirming care. Both of these bills were signed by Newsom on Sep. 22, 2021.
According to Nakia Woods, Director at the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, these legislative efforts in anticipation for a Roe v. Wade overturn are just the first step.
“When you’re looking at all of these bills, where a lot of the reproductive justice organizations across the state have been slowly preparing for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, it’s one of those things where we hope for the best but we prepare for the worst,” Woods said. “A lot of these bills are coming out as the stop gaps until [we see] some type of federal push to legalize abortion across the country, [and working] with other states to adapt policies and legislation similar to those that are in California.”
They emphasized that, if these bills were to pass, California would be setting a standard of what the expectations should be for states that are claiming to be a reproductive freedom state.
In addition to increased funding and a slew of legislation aimed at protecting abortion access in California, Newsom and other state leaders are also calling for a state constitutional amendment to guarantee abortion rights.
“California will not stand idly by as women across America are stripped of their rights and the progress so many have fought for gets erased,” Newsom stated in an announcement on May 2nd. “We will fight. California is proposing an amendment to enshrine the right to choose in our state constitution so that there is no doubt as to the right to abortion in this state. We know we can’t trust the Supreme Court to protect reproductive rights, so California will build a firewall around this right in our state constitution. Women will remain protected here.”
To put the constitutional amendment on the November ballot for voters, two-thirds of lawmakers in both the Senate and the Assembly would need to approve the language before the end of June.