4 West Coast states 'put welcome sign on door' for abortion access

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 As Republican lawmakers move to ban abortion in about half of U.S. states following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a cluster of Democratic-led states on the West Coast is standing apart in a collective vow to protect abortion access.

On Friday, governors in California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada promised to protect reproductive rights and help women traveling west seeking abortions, as communities now expect an influx of visitors in search of a safe place to get the procedure.

Three of those states –  California, Washington and Oregon – joined forces in what officials called a “West Coast offense.” Their goal? To locally protect and expand abortion rights that are being outlawed across the U.S.

But leaders are also signaling worry about what has yet to come – and what other reversals may be in store after the death of Roe v. Wade.

California leads charge to protect access

California has been “doubling down” on its efforts to expand access to abortions in recent years, and voters will soon have the chance to enshrine those rights in the state’s constitution, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a news conference Friday.

Newsom, who also signed the first in a series of bills aiming to promote California as a safe haven for those seeking abortions, struck a defiant tone in his opening remarks –  “I'm a little less sorry than I am pissed, a little less sorry than I am resolved and angry,” the Democratic governor said – while warning that the Supreme Court could soon reverse its stance on other key issues.

“They're coming after you next –  period, full stop,” Newsom said. “This is not just about women. This is not just about choice. It's not just about reproductive freedom. They're coming after you next.”

A billboard reading "Welcome to California where abortion is safe and still legal" stands near the intersection of Highway 111 and Bob Hope Dr. in Rancho Mirage, Calif., June 24, 2022.
A billboard reading "Welcome to California where abortion is safe and still legal" stands near the intersection of Highway 111 and Bob Hope Dr. in Rancho Mirage, Calif., June 24, 2022.

Newsom, who has repeatedly pushed back against the policies of Republican governors in states such as Texas and Florida, was joined by top legislative leaders during the news conference in Sacramento. Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego, highlighted a bill – which Newsom signed into law during the gathering – that would protect people seeking abortion care in the state from civil action started in another state.

“Those inhumane laws will not cross California borders,” Atkins said. “We will not leave women and families impacted by the fall of Roe v. Wade and the backwards, reckless policies of other states without options.”

That legislation is one of several that could be passed into law in the coming weeks. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said the chamber will take up a proposal next week that would allow voters to decide on the November ballot whether to enshrine the right to an abortion in the California Constitution.

“We will not go gently into the night that they are creating,” Rendon said. “We are fighting back in California.”

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks about abortion rights during a news conference Friday, June 24, 2022, in Sacramento.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks about abortion rights during a news conference Friday, June 24, 2022, in Sacramento.

'It's very real'

Attorney General Rob Bonta reiterated the Supreme Court’s decision to void Roe v. Wade is “confirmation that we must further codify the right to a safe and legal abortion” in the California Constitution.

“Today's a sad day, and it's a dark day, but today is not the last day in this fight,” Bonta said. “Our fight for reproductive freedom marches on.”

California lawmakers are considering a total of 16 bills this year that aim to bolster abortion access in the state, according to Shannon Olivieri Hovis, the director of NARAL Pro-Choice California. The bills cover a wide range of abortion-related issues, addressing provider shortages, helping low-access areas and providing privacy and legal safeguards for providers and patients.

“We've put a welcome sign on the door,” Hovis said during the news conference. “We are letting folks know that no matter where they're from, no matter where they live, no matter what their circumstances, they are welcome in California to access the critical abortion care that they need.”

Still, the officials were not shy about their worries regarding what could come next, with Newsom stating he’s “very worried” about the possibility of GOP lawmakers approving further restrictions on abortion access at the federal level.

“If people don't wake up, we can be living in that reality,” Newsom said. “It’s very real.”

The Left Coast bans together

In the “multi-state commitment” announced Friday, Washington, California and Oregon vowed to work together to defend patients and medical professionals providing reproductive health care.

They also pledged to “protect against judicial and local law enforcement cooperation with out-of-state investigations, inquiries and arrests” regarding abortions performed in their states.

“More than half the nation’s population now lacks safe access to a medical procedure that only a patient and their doctor can and should make for themselves,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. “Washington state remains steadfast in our commitment to protecting the ability and right of every patient who comes to our state in need of abortion care.”

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he will work to ensure his state “welcomes any individual who comes here to access the fundamental right to reproductive justice,” adding that he is “already working to protect medical professionals who are prosecuted in other states for providing essential health care services that are legal and protected in Washington.”

Washington and Oregon border Idaho, which following Friday’s ruling will ban abortions except in cases of reported rape or incest, or to protect the mother’s life.

The liberal West Coast states now anticipate an influx of people seeking abortions, especially as neighboring conservative states move to outlaw or greatly restrict the procedure.

In Oregon, an influx of abortion-seekers expected from Idaho

In Eastern Oregon, residents will be significantly affected when Idaho's ban goes into effect. In April, Planned Parenthood rented space in Ontario, Oregon, saying it was preparing for an influx of out-of-state patients.

Christel Allen, executive director of Pro-Choice Oregon, said Friday her group expects the state to see a 235% increase in people traveling to Oregon for abortions.

Oregon law already contains abortion access protections granted by Roe v. Wade. State law was updated in 2017 and allows for late-term abortion and requires private medical insurance and state Medicaid to cover the procedure.

Community members gather in defense of abortion rights during the Defend Roe rally on Sunday, May 15, 2022 at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore.
Community members gather in defense of abortion rights during the Defend Roe rally on Sunday, May 15, 2022 at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore.

Oregon voters have also supported abortion access at the ballot box: A ballot measure in 2018 pushed by anti-abortion groups to prohibit the use of public funds on abortions was rejected 64% to 36%.

A $15 million fund established by state lawmakers this year covers costs for abortion providers and patients without insurance coverage or traveling from out of state. The fund also seeks to expand abortion access in Oregon’s rural communities.

“No matter who you are or where you come from, Oregon doesn’t turn away anyone seeking health care,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said.

Abortion rights advocates in Oregon stressed the voiding of Roe v. Wade had no impact on state laws and that work to protect rights would continue.

“If we have learned anything from the past six years is that we cannot take anything for granted and we cannot rest on our laurels," said An Do, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon. "We need to continue to ensure that Oregon remains a place where people can access the care they need when they need it, where they need it.”

In Nevada, abortion access becomes center of U.S. Senate race

In Nevada, the Supreme Court decision arrives against the backdrop of a high-stakes U.S. Senate contest – and reproductive rights will likely be a key issue in that race.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, said in a series of tweets Friday that the "consequences will be swift and tragic for so many women across America.”

“With Roe gone, extremists are planning to pass a federal abortion ban if they retake the Senate," wrote Cortez Masto, one of the most vulnerable Democrats this year in an evenly divided U.S. Senate. "And Nevadans cannot risk my opponent Adam Laxalt — who’s celebrating today’s ruling as ‘an historic victory’ — being in the Senate for that vote.”

As one of nine states that has firmly embedded Roe’s protections in state law, Nevada is largely immune from the impact of the decision.

Laxalt, a former one-term Nevada attorney general, said Friday that the Supreme Court "never had the expertise nor the authority to unilaterally legislate on abortion."

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a statement on Twitter Friday, sharing his disappointment with the Supreme Court ruling.

As long as he's governor, he said, Nevada will continue to fight for reproductive rights.

Contributing: USA TODAY, Associated Press, Alexei Koseff and Kristen Hwang, CalMatters.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Roe v Wade: CA, Washington, Oregon, Nevada promise abortion access