Here’s What’s Next for California if Roe v. Wade Falls

Golden State politicians are already gearing up to turn California into an abortion rights sanctuary if SCOTUS destroys the law

If Supreme Court conservatives vote the way a draft majority opinion leaked to Politico Monday indicates they will in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women Health, it would allow Mississippi to ban abortions after 15 weeks, effectively ending 49 years of federal reproductive rights protection under Roe v. Wade. But how would that change lives in California?

If Roe is overturned, 26 states (some say 23) are already planning to ban abortions outright, for one thing.

As soon as the news broke, Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted his assurance that, “California will not stand by as women across America are stripped of their rights,” and quickly followed by proposing “an amendment to enshrine the right to choose in the California constitution,” because, “We can’t trust SCOTUS to protect the right to abortion, so we’ll do it ourselves.”

The Governor added, “Women will remain protected here.”

Jeb Barnes, a political science professor at the USC Dornsife College who studies the intersection between law, politics and public policy, tells Los Angeles that while California may not feel the impact of Roe’s reversal as sharply or as quickly as some other states, it will be felt.

“Overall, overturning Roe v. Wade would return the issue of abortion back to the states,” Barnes said via email. “In liberal states like California, the decision would not have an immediate impact, other than potentially increasing demand from patients from states that will ban or significantly curtail access to abortion.”

Looking outside California, Barnes says, “Experts estimate that half of the states are likely to ban or significantly restrict abortions, which could reduce the number of abortions by an estimated 14 percent—or about 1 in 7. Of course, this will disproportionately impact those in these states who do not have the means to travel outside their states to seek abortions.”

Back in December, Gov. Newsom and his allies in the state legislature announced their plans to create an abortion sanctuary state in California if the Supreme Court ever flipped Roe. A coalition of more than 40 abortion providers and advocacy groups called the California Future of Abortion Council released a list of 45 recommendations for the state to consider if Roe falls.

California already pays for abortions for many low-income residents through Medicaid and is one of only six states that require private insurance companies to cover abortions. The lawmakers in December also recommended that California reimburse abortion providers for the expenses of out-of-state patients seeking the procedure here, including transportation—down to the cost of gas—as well as accommodations and childcare for those whose income is low enough that they would qualify for Medicaid if they were California residents.

While the state doesn’t gather abortion statistics—and it’s not known how many women would want to take advantage of such a California sanctuary—pro-choice research group the Guttmacher Institute says 132,680 abortions were performed in California in 2017, or about 15 percent of all abortions nationally. Guttmacher also estimates that number of women from other states whose nearest abortion provider will be in California will soar from 46,000 to 1.4 million.

Planned Parenthood, which accounts for about half of California’s abortion clinics, told the Associated Press in December that it served 7,000 women from other states in 2020.

It remains unclear how California will foot all those bills, but of course there is that $68 billion budget surplus and a June 15 deadline for lawmakers to find ways to spend it.

Barnes, meanwhile, warns that reproductive rights could be just the first domino if a few SCOTUS justices manage to destroy Roe.

“The potential stakes, however, go far beyond abortion,” he says. “If this decision stands—and it is important to remember that it is only a draft and drafts can change—it raises questions about the viability of other decisions rooted in the right of privacy, including decisions protecting marriage equality. Regardless of the specific policy implications of this decision, progressives should brace themselves for living in the shadow of a very conservative Supreme Court, which will have a large say on social issues, consumer protection and the regulation of corporations.”

The very existence of a leaky SCOTUS is itself a truly bad omen, Barnes adds, saying, “The fact that a draft decision was leaked is truly remarkable. We talk about the politicization of the Supreme Court in terms of bitter confirmation hearings and partisan opinions. Here, we see a someone leaking a draft to generate political pressure on the Court during its deliberations on a major opinion. It’s like someone in Washington leaking to the press to shape the political agenda inside the Beltway.”

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