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Democrats keep pushing to bolster California’s role as an abortion sanctuary

Democratic lawmakers introduced a package of bills Monday to further bolster California’s role as an abortion haven after last year’s overthrow of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Although Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several laws last year to expand abortion access in California in response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Democratic lawmakers said more are needed this year to protect the privacy of people seeking abortions, safeguard abortion providers and expand insurance coverage. Its goal is to strengthen the state’s abortion infrastructure for Californians, as well as patients from other states where abortion has been restricted or prohibited.

“We absolutely cannot rest on this attack,” State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said at a news conference at the state Capitol, where the Women’s Legislative Caucus introduced 17 bills.

“We have a great package of bills to promote reproductive justice, to promote the protection of people who may end up coming into our state, our providers and our health care providers.”

Several bills in the package would expand privacy protections for people seeking abortion, contraception or medical care during pregnancy. AB 254 by Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) would strengthen privacy rules for data shared in digital applications, such as fertility or pregnancy trackers. Her AB 352 would strengthen the privacy of medical records related to abortion or pregnancy loss that are shared through electronic health information exchanges.

AB 793 seeks to protect people from digital surveillance related to reproductive health care by eliminating so-called reverse lawsuits in which law enforcement agencies can ask tech companies for the identities of people seeking terms such as “medical abortion,” said Assemblywoman Mia Bonta (D-Alameda).

Other bills in the package would add new requirements for insurance companies. AB 571 by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine) would require medical malpractice insurance to cover sexual and reproductive health, which she says is necessary to keep some clinics open and provide abortion access. AB 1432 by Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), would require health insurance companies based outside of California to cover abortion and gender-affirming care to policyholders in the state.

The new legislation also includes efforts to increase public awareness of abortion options and other reproductive health services. AB 598 requires public school districts to administer a survey to students in grades 7 through 12 that includes “information about obtaining abortions during different stages of pregnancy,” according to the bill by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland ).

AB 710 would create a public information campaign about crisis pregnancy centers that do not offer abortions, although the details have not yet been finalized. An earlier California law requiring faith-based pregnancy centers that oppose abortion to notify patients that the state offers subsidized abortions was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2018.

“When women need access to health care, it is critical that the information they obtain is factual and that providers have their best interests in mind, not an agenda to discourage them from seeking an abortion,” said Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo (D- Chatsworth), author of AB 710.

Kristin Turner, executive director of the nonprofit Pro-Life San Francisco, said AB 710 will make it harder for abortion opponents to support women during their pregnancies. But she said the legislation she was most concerned about is AB 1646, which will allow out-of-state medical students to practice abortion and gender-affirming care in California for 90 days.

“If California does this, our biggest export will be murdered children,” Turner said. “If Governor Newsom signs these bills into law, it won’t just be his hands that will be covered in blood, but his entire office.”

The bills introduced in California’s Democratic-dominated Capitol reflect the divide between red states and blue states that has deepened since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. end constitutional protections for abortion which had been in place for nearly 50 years. In its ruling, the court said the Constitution does not protect the right to abortion, allowing states to ban or restrict the procedure.

In California, the ruling sparked a race by Newsom and Democratic lawmakers to protect and expand abortion access and encourage people in states that restrict the procedure to come to the Golden State for care.

In 2022, Newsom signed 15 reproductive health and abortion protection bills that provide safe sites, eliminate copays for procedures, and protect against out-of-state investigations. In November, state voters right to abortion enshrined in the California Constitution by passing Proposition 1.

“We’re not done,” Bauer-Kahan said Monday. “It has been less than a year since the annulment of Roe v. Wade, and California has taken incredible steps to protect access to abortion care. The Women’s Caucus stands ready to get to work and continue to ensure that all women and pregnant individuals who come to California seeking abortion care have access to services in a safe, accessible and dignified manner.”