With the Supreme Court allowing a draconian ban on abortion in Texas to go into effect just last week, the legal right to abortion hanging in the balance nationwide, and the recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom just days away, people want to know: Could an anti-choice governor in California really roll back the right to abortion here in the Golden State? The short answer is no — at least not any time soon — but that’s not the point.
Everyone should be distressed by Texas’ Senate Bill 8 and the fate of the federal constitutional right to abortion — especially with the Supreme Court taking up a case about Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which directly challenges Roe v. Wade. If the federal constitutional right to abortion is overturned or gutted nationwide, abortion could be prohibited in nearly half of the United States, the consequences of which will be felt all across the country. California will not be immune.
The question is not whether abortion will remain legal in California, but will California be prepared to provide care to the thousands upon thousands of people who cannot get care in their own states? The future is not just about California. It’s about the role that California will play in a nation where millions of people have had the right to abortion and self-determination, which they have relied on for fifty years, stripped from them.
If access to abortion is compromised in states across the country, people will be forced to travel to access care. We need not speculate about whether this will happen; it has been happening for years. With SB 8 in effect in Texas, other states in the region have already seen significant increases in pregnant people seeking care at their clinics. In 2020, as states like Texas sought to weaponize the COVID-19 pandemic to put abortion all but out of reach, California’s clinics saw an influx of out-of-state patients. Even with Roe still standing, anti-choice legislators have been able to pass laws shuttering abortion clinics in states all across the country. There are five states with only one abortion clinic left. Many Missourians seek care across the border in Illinois. Many southerners head to North Carolina or Georgia.
One can imagine the ecosystem we will find ourselves in if Roe falls and abortion is outlawed in nearly half of the United States. At present, California is home to more than a quarter of the nation’s health care facilities that provide abortion care. If Roe falls, California will have an outsized role in helping women and pregnant people from all across the country access the care they need. The question is whether California is ready to meet this moment. Unfortunately, the answer is that California still has a lot of work to do — even with a reproductive freedom champion occupying the governor’s office.
Despite the strong investments that the legislature and Gov. Newsom have made to advance reproductive freedom in recent years — including doubling funding for sexual and reproductive health care, expanding abortion access to public universities and taking steps to strengthen our provider network — major access barriers remain for Californians. Forty percent of California counties do not have a single abortion provider. We also have a massive provider shortage. Nine California counties do not have a single OB-GYN and 19 counties have fewer than five. Even within California, people have to travel up to 180 miles to access abortion care, and many people have to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for an abortion — an issue we attempted to rectify this year with SB 245, which was unexpectedly stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
The stakes of our gubernatorial recall couldn’t be higher. If Newsom is recalled, California will end up with an anti-choice governor at a time when we are facing the most dangerous threat to reproductive freedom in nearly half a century.
While it is true that an anti-choice governor could not unilaterally unravel the right to abortion in California, they could do real damage to abortion access. With an anti-choice governor at the helm, California could see new barriers to abortion coverage under Medi-Cal; significant cuts to funding for access to abortion, contraception, sex education and more; and the appointment of anti-choice judges up and down the state. All of this at a time when California’s role as a reproductive freedom state is needed more than at any time in history.
Defeating the anti-choice recall of Gov. Newsom is just step one. Once that is behind us, California has tremendous work to do to show up and provide care for the millions of women and pregnant people across the nation who may need us.
Shannon Olivieri Hovis is director of NARAL Pro-Choice California.