Women don’t need to travel to receive abortion care. Why is Newsom saying they do? | Opinion

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“We’re almost there. We’re gonna make it,” says one young woman to another in a recent ad running in Alabama. The woman looks nervously over her shoulder as they drive past a sign indicating that there is only one more mile until they reach the Alabama border. Then, they hear a siren.

A police cruiser pulls them over and a male officer saunters up to the driver’s side window. “Miss, I’m gonna need you to step out of the vehicle and take a pregnancy test,” the officer says, leaning on the car and cockily tapping a plastic pregnancy test on the door.

In the next frame, the officer has the woman bent over the front of her car, placing handcuffs on her wrists. A voice-over warns, “Trump Republicans want to criminalize young Alabama women who travel for reproductive care.”


The ad, titled “Fugitive,” is funded by California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Campaign for Democracy PAC, one of several ads and billboards he’s running in states with abortion bans that invite women in need of abortions to leave their states and seek out care from California clinicians. In the last few weeks, Newsom has also encouraged women in Arizona and Florida — two states making headlines for extreme abortion bans — to come to California for care.

Here’s the rub: Women don’t have to travel out of state to get high-quality abortion healthcare. Telemedicine abortion is now available in all 50 states from licensed medical professionals based in California. You’d never know that from Newsom’s ads, which urge viewers to navigate to RightToTravel.org, where the only action that can be taken is to sign a petition telling lawmakers in Tennessee, Oklahoma and Alabama not to pass legislation taking away the constitutional right to travel.

Close to two-thirds of all abortions in 2023 were done with pills, and one in five abortions are done through telehealth with clinicians mailing pills. Women don’t need to cross state borders and travel hundreds of miles for abortion healthcare; they can get on their laptop or pick up their phone and order abortion pills from California clinicians.

We need to raise the alarm about travel bans, but not in a way that misleads people into believing they have to travel out of state for abortion healthcare. The vast majority of people get abortions before 12 weeks and can use telemedicine abortion with pills mailed directly to their homes in days, which is legal for them to do in all 50 states. Telemedicine abortion is a lot less expensive and more convenient and private than traveling hundreds of miles out of state to obtain in-clinic care.

If viewers of this Alabama advertisement somehow found their way to the California government website that directs people to abortion healthcare in the state, the site only lists California providers that require people to travel to our state or seek out telemedicine providers that require patients to travel to states where abortion is legal to receive care. The website does not list California-based telemedicine abortion providers at Aid Access, who serve people regardless of where they are located, or at Armadillo Clinic, who serve people in California and six restricted states.

These providers specifically operate under California’s telehealth provider shield law, signed by Newsom last September (which went into effect in January). The law protects California clinicians from criminal and civil actions initiated in other states for telehealth abortion services they provide to out-of-state patients. Three California-based clinicians, working with Aid Access, are now serving people in all 50 states for a sliding scale fee, up to $150, delivering abortion pills by mail within two to five days.

Aid Access and two other U.S.-based telemedicine providers — Abuzz and Cambridge Reproductive Health Consultants — are operating under telehealth abortion provider shield laws, which are in effect in five other states beyond California: Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, Vermont and New York. Each month, these clinicians serve over 12,000 people who live in states that ban clinicians within their borders from providing abortion healthcare.

Their sliding scale fee structure is supported by two new abortion funds: the California-based Healthcare Across BordersAbortion Pill Sustainability Fund and The Abortion Coalition for Telemedicine’s ACT Fund. Another California-based organization, Plan C, offers the most comprehensive guide to abortion pills nationwide.

Through this network of organizations, California is playing a critical role in ensuring abortion access to people living in states with abortion bans — but you’d never know it from Newsom’s billboards and commercials.

Many people aren’t able to travel out of state for abortion care. Many can’t afford it: Half of U.S. abortion patients live in poverty and 75% are low-income. Some can’t travel because of care-taking responsibilities and others have jobs they can’t leave for the time it takes to travel for abortion care, especially if they are living in the South, where all states have now banned abortion access.

Minors and teens often do not have the ability to leave home and travel for abortion care. For undocumented people and immigrants, arbitrary checkpoints block them from traveling for abortion care. Others simply don’t want to travel far from home for healthcare.

These individuals deserve to know all options available to them.

We urge Newsom to start telling women their full range of abortion options and stop telling them they have to travel for early abortion care. Newsom’s messaging should include the most promising way to help people living in ban states to access abortion: telemedicine abortion providers in California and elsewhere who are mailing to patients wherever they are, for whatever they can pay.

Carrie N. Baker, Ph.D., J.D., is a chaired professor at Smith College and author of the forthcoming book, “Abortion Pills: U.S. History and Politics” (Amherst College Press, 2024). Roxanne Szal is a reporter and editor based in Austin, Texas.