SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Within hours of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade on Friday, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington promised to defend access to reproductive health care, including abortion and contraceptives.
The heads of the West Coast states also said they will protect patients and doctors against efforts by other states to export their abortion bans.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said their actions come in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s "unprecedented decision to strip away a constitutional right that has been in place for half a century, leaving abortion regulation to the states."
"The Supreme Court has made it clear – they want to strip women of their liberty and let Republican states replace it with mandated birth because the right to choose an abortion is not ‘deeply rooted in history,'" Newsom said in a statement. "They want to turn back the clock to a time when women had no right to make decisions about their own bodies, when women had to seek care in the shadows and at great danger, when women were not treated as equal citizens under the law. This is another devastating step toward erasing the rights and liberties Americans have fought for on battlefields, in courthouses and in capitols. This is not the America we know – and it’s not the California way."
Over the past several years, each state has taken action to expand access to reproductive health care in preparation for just such a decision:
- Newsom has proposed a $125 million Reproductive Health Package to expand access for women and help prepare for the influx of women seeking reproductive health care from other states. Newsom also recently signed legislation eliminating copays for abortion care services and has signed into law a legislative package to further strengthen access and protect patients and providers.
- Oregon led the nation by passing the most comprehensive reproductive health legislation at the time. Brown signed Oregon’s Reproductive Health Equity Act into law in 2017 — a first of its kind bill that expanded access to reproductive health services for all Oregonians and codified the right to an abortion into state law. Oregon also invested $15 million for community-based organizations to expand access to abortion across the state and provide immediate support to patients, health care providers, and community advocates, with a focus on rural communities, communities of color, and low-income communities to overcome barriers to access.
- In 2018, Inslee signed the Reproductive Parity Act that requires all health plans that include maternity care services to also cover abortion and contraception. In 2021, he signed the Protecting Pregnancy Act that allows doctors who practice in Catholic-run hospitals to bypass ethical-religious directives and provide medically necessary abortion when a woman’s life is in danger. Earlier this year, Inslee signed the Affirm Washington Abortion Access Act that better ensures the ability of Washington abortion care providers to serve any person who comes in Washington state seeking an abortion. Washington law also protects patients and clinic personnel from harassment outside of clinics. Further, when federal changes were made to the Title X program to not allow family planning clinics to reference abortion as an option, Washington state stepped up to fund the Title X clinics instead of having to comply. While the federal funding has been restored, the state will continue to provide needed funding to support access to abortion.
California outlawed abortion in 1850, except when the life of the mother was in danger.
The law changed in 1967 to include abortions in the case of rape, incest or if a woman’s mental health were in danger. In 1969, the California Supreme Court declared the state’s original abortion law to be unconstitutional but left the 1967 law in place.
In 1972 – one year before the Roe v. Wade decision at the U.S. Supreme Court -- California voters added a "right to privacy" to the state constitution. Since then, the state Supreme Court has interpreted that "right to privacy" as a right to access abortion, allow minors to get an abortion without their parents’ permission and use public funding for abortions in the state’s Medicaid program. California now requires private health insurance plans to cover abortions and does not allow them to charge things such as co-pays or deductibles for the procedure.
Even with the Supreme Court ruling, abortion will still be legal in the West Coast states prior to the viability of a fetus.
In California, the state Legislature is considering 13 bills that would strengthen or expand access to abortion.
The bills are based on a report from the Future of Abortion Council, which Newsom formed last year to study reproductive rights in California. They include proposals that would help pay for women from other states to come to California for abortions, ban enforcement of out-of-state civil judgments on California abortion providers and volunteers, and increase the number of people who can offer abortions by authorizing some nurse practitioners to perform the procedure without the supervision of a doctor.
Lawmakers also plan to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would explicitly guarantee the right to an abortion and contraceptives.
The Supreme Court decision came against a backdrop of public opinion surveys that find a majority of Americans oppose overturning Roe and handing whether to permit abortion entirely to the states. Polls conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and others also have consistently shown about 1 in 10 Americans want abortion to be illegal in all cases. A majority are in favor of abortion being legal in all or most circumstances, but polls indicate many also support restrictions especially later in pregnancy.
The Biden administration and other defenders of abortion rights have warned that a decision overturning Roe also would threaten other high court decisions in favor of gay rights and even potentially, contraception.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.