California enacts new abortion laws, expecting copycats

Now, Maine Democrats are pushing a bill to eliminate copays for abortion, a policy California enacted last year and that Bonta is defending in court from a lawsuit filed by anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers.

And in Minnesota, where Democrats flipped control of the legislature in the 2022 midterms, lawmakers are pushing the Reproductive Freedom Defense Act that replicates several California policies aimed at protecting patients and providers from legal peril.

“One of the places we looked to for inspiration was the blueprint that came out of California,” Democratic state Sen. Erin Maye Quade said in an interview. “Minnesota has never had a reproductive freedom majority in both chambers, ever, in its history, until now. So it was a new muscle we had to develop.”

California’s example, she added, was “super helpful.”

Illinois just passed a law to protect doctors treating out-of-state patients, as California did last year. And Missouri and Washington lawmakers have introduced bills similar to California’s that would prevent state officials and law enforcement from obtaining personal medical data from period trackers and other health apps.

Massachusetts’ law to make abortion pills available on public college and university campuses, inspired by California’s and passed in July, is set to take effect later this year. And New York may be right behind them.

“Each state is, obviously, different, but we definitely are watching what [California] is doing,” said New York Democratic Assemblymember Amy Paulin, who chairs the health committee in Albany. “Like them, we have to provide access, to the best of our ability, for people in our states and allow people to come here and avail themselves of it as well.”

New York lawmakers also voted Tuesday to put a constitutional amendment codifying abortion rights on the ballot in 2024 — something California did last year.

Maryland lawmakers recently invited Bonta to testify as they debated their own measures to shield abortion providers and their patients from prosecution, and California officials met with Vice President Kamala Harris, formerly the state’s attorney general, to walk her through the new policies and offer advice for other states that want to follow suit.

The Newsom administration created a website that lists all of the actions the state has taken related to abortion — administrative, executive and legislative — with the full bill language available should any legislator in another state want to copy it.

“The type of fight we’re having here is occurring elsewhere in the country, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” said Julia Spiegel, the deputy legal secretary for Newsom.

Becoming an ‘abortion sanctuary’

California’s new abortion laws were crafted to serve two purposes: To shore up protections for people seeking and providing abortions and to expand access to the procedure.

In the first category are laws that block California law enforcement and private companies from cooperating with other states that attempt to prosecute someone over an abortion performed in California and laws that also block out-of-state subpoenas and requests for information about the procedure. There is also a new law to shield people in the state from criminal and civil liability if they experience a miscarriage — a direct response to a prosecutor in Kings County who jailed two California women in recent years over alleged drug use during pregnancy that resulted in stillbirth.

Other new state laws are aimed at preparing California’s clinics to care for the thousands of patients from around the country who are already traveling from anti-abortion states — and making sure that influx doesn’t impede California residents’ access.

More than $200 million in state funding has been allocated to help people from other states pay for travel, lodging and other needs, reimburse doctors for providing abortions to people unable to afford them, and help clinics hire and train more providers.

Most of that funding has yet to be dispersed. But as clinics in the state continue to be inundated with patients six months after the fall of Roe, Dipti Singh, the general counsel for Planned Parenthood of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley, said other new state laws are already having an impact. Among them: a swifter and easier process for out-of-state providers to become licensed in California provide new legal protections for medical workers who perform the procedure.

“We were afraid many providers would say they wouldn’t do abortions [on out-of-state patients] anymore because of the personal and professional risks. But we’re just not seeing that,” she said. “And patients are continuing to come all over because California is going above and beyond to ensure it’s a reproductive freedom state.”

State officials, including Newsom, aren’t just bracing for traveling patients — they’re actively courting them.

In addition to paying for billboards last year in South Dakota, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas promoting the state as an “abortion sanctuary,” the Newsom administration launched an online tool to help people around the country find a California provider, make an appointment and learn about the state’s new legal protections and financial supports.

In the four months since the site launched, the governor’s office told POLITICO, there have been nearly 60,000 unique visitors and nearly 60 percent of them are from outside of California.