Democratic state governors of California, Oregon and Washington issued a new commitment to enshrine abortion rights across the west coast on Friday, as the US grappled with the supreme court’s ruling removing the federal right to abortion.
Calling their states a “a safe haven for all people seeking abortions and other reproductive health care services”, California governor Gavin Newsom, Oregon governor Kate Brown, and Washington governor Jay Inslee pledged to defend access to reproductive healthcare and protect those who cross their borders from other states seeking care.
They vowed to hamper out-of-state investigations or efforts to target those who receive services in their states, including barring local law enforcement from cooperating with outside agencies.
“California has banded together with Oregon and Washington to stand up for women, and to protect access to reproductive health care,” Newsom said in a statement. “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. We refuse to go back and we will fight like hell to protect our rights and our values.”
The supreme court decision on Friday to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark decision that had protected reproductive rights in the US for nearly 5 decades, paves the way for a slew of states that intend to roll back abortion rights. At least 26 states are expected to ban abortion immediately or as soon as is practical after the decision, affecting 40 million people. Those who are less affluent, the young, Black and brown people, and those with children already are likely to bear the brunt of those rollbacks.
But even in the liberal states where leaders have consistently voiced strong commitments to reproductive rights and rebuked the Republican-led states that led the charge to dismantle them, key challenges to abortion access – and battlegrounds – remain.
“The threat to patient access and privacy has never been more dangerous,” said Inslee, the Washington governor, noting that even as his state continues to uphold abortion rights, Republicans in the state have introduced at least four dozen billsover the last six years aimed at rolling them back. “The right of choice should not depend on which party holds the majority, but that’s where we find ourselves,” Inslee added.
Even in California, where abortion access is backed by statute and where legislators are working to enshrine reproductive freedoms into the state’s constitution, some residents still face significant barriers to get care. So-called “access deserts” cover large swaths of the state, especially in more conservative and rural areas including the central valley and in the far north. In 40% of California counties there isn’t a single clinic that provides abortions. As the state positions itself as a sanctuary for others, some advocates are concerned that residents may struggle to find the care they need.
“As more and more people come in from out of state seeking abortions, it’s going to put more pressure on a system that’s already strained,” said Laura Jiménez, the executive director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice.
Already, some California residents have to travel hours across their county lines in order to receive care.
High costs have also hampered access. Even without transportation expenses, an abortion can run hundreds of dollars for those without insurance. Many, especially those with complicated cases or who are farther along in their pregnancies, aren’t able to afford the costs or coordinate travel quickly. Language barriers and misinformation have only complicated the issues, spurring fear of criminalization and deportation that stops immigrants without legal status from seeking the care they need.
Still, important investments have been made in the three states to shore up their pledges, including a $125m reproductive health package proposed by Newsom in California to expand access. Oregon’s Reproductive Health Equity Act offers free reproductive healthcare to some Oregonians and a new bill signed by Inslee this year protects professionals in the state who provide abortions from out-of-state prosecution. Advocates say there’s still a lot more work to be done.
Reproductive rights are expected to be a key issue in future elections in these states and across the country. Already, Democratic lawmakers have used the supreme court’s decision to fundraise, signifying the fight that lays ahead. Public opinion is on their side – roughly 85% of Americans support abortion access.
But for now, the states along the west coast will continue to offer care and position themselves as a go-to destination.
“Abortion is health care, and no matter who you are or where you come from, Oregon doesn’t turn away anyone seeking health care,” said Brown of Oregon, “For all the Americans today feeling scared, angry and disappointed – for everyone who needs an abortion and does not know where they can access safe reproductive health care: please know you are not alone, and the fight is not over.”