California unveils plan opening door to Arizona abortion seekers and doctors

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Top California leaders introduced a plan Wednesday to expand abortion access for Arizonans coming across the border, including opening doors to out-of-state doctors.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s bill would allow licensed Arizona physicians to quickly get a temporary license to see their patients in California through Nov. 30, according to details shared exclusively with POLITICO ahead of the official unveiling.

The bill is being introduced in the Legislature on Wednesday by Legislative Women’s Caucus leaders: state Sen. Nancy Skinner and Assembly Majority Leader Cecilia Aguiar-Curry.

Senate Bill 233, which Newsom first suggested over the weekend on MSNBC’s “Inside with Jen Psaki,” is a response to the April 9 decision by Arizona’s Supreme Court to uphold an 1864 near-total ban on abortion. Newsom's plan was announced just hours before the Arizona House voted to repeal that ban, but abortion access there is still likely to remain in jeopardy, at least in the immediate future. The repeal bill, if passed, won’t take effect until 90 days after the legislative session ends, and the ban is set to take effect in June.

Newsom's office said his "legislation is a valuable stopgap even if the Arizona Republican-led legislature passes a law to repeal the extreme 1864 ban," adding that it would "fill a critical gap for care during a meaningful period of time before an Arizona repeal could be implemented. Swift action helps combat the confusion and chilling effect this back-and-forth creates."

In order to accommodate a potential surge of abortion patients now cut off from care in Arizona, doctors from that state would be able to submit proof of their current license along with other documentation to the California Medical Board or Osteopathic Board. The group “Red, Wine and Blue,” will be covering the cost for Arizona providers, and Newsom’s office says no state funds will be used for the effort.

At the same time, California Attorney General Rob Bonta is also issuing guidance on Wednesday, reminding abortion seekers and providers of their rights in California, according to details also shared with POLITICO before that announcement.

“For providers from near-total abortion ban states who are willing to practice in California, you are welcome in California, and we want to ensure that you know your rights and are empowered to continue fulfilling your vital role of providing necessary abortion care here,” Bonta said in a statement shared with POLITICO. “California has your back and is armed with resources and safeguarding measures should you seek to obtain or provide care in our state.”

Bonta’s letter highlights state laws that criminalize harassing patients at abortion clinics, prevent doctors who legally perform the procedure from being extradited across state lines and keep patient data private from out-of-state subpoenas and warrants.

If it passes, Newsom's bill would go into effect immediately with his signature. Technically, the Legislature has until August 31 to pass bills, but since Arizona’s ban goes into effect June 8, California is aiming to move quickly before then.

California providers have already performed an additional 12,000 abortions than was expected in the 15 months since Roe v. Wade was overturned, according to Newsom’s office.

The state has been preparing for an increased demand from out-of-state patients for over a year, including the passage of two dozen abortion-related laws and setting aside over $200 million to shore up the state’s abortion infrastructure.

More than 1,440 patients have received financial help in getting to their appointments through the state’s Practical Support Fund, and another 42,000 patients have been funded through a different state program that gives financial support to abortion providers, as POLITICO reported last week.