Amid US abortion crackdown, California seeks to be a ‘sanctuary’

Advocates in California are seeking to transform the US state into an abortion haven, as millions of people across the United States may soon need to travel thousands of kilometres in search of care.

The conservative-leaning US Supreme Court is expected to deliver a decision by June in a direct challenge to Roe v Wade, the precedent-setting ruling that has guaranteed the right to abortion in the US for nearly 50 years.

If it is overturned, more than two dozen states are expected to quickly ban abortion, which will prompt a surge of people to cross state lines to access the procedure. But many of them will face challenges including paying out-of-pocket for healthcare costs, travel and childcare.

“What keeps me up at night, really, is that folks aren’t going to be able to get here,” Lisa Matsubara, vice president of policy and general counsel at Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, told Al Jazeera.

Planned Parenthood is one of more than 40 groups that recently joined forces to issue a report (PDF) outlining measures California must take to increase abortion access. The coalition, known as the California Future of Abortion Council, says without these changes, the system will likely be overwhelmed by those travelling from out of state.

“We really want to make sure that there’s equitable access to abortion care,” Matsubara said. “Abortion bans really disproportionately impact people who are already marginalised or have low income, or are from communities of colour.”

The report, which also serves as a blueprint for other states, has prompted 13 bills that are currently pending in the California state legislature.

If passed, they would fund abortions, travel and lodging for people who cannot afford the high costs; train and fund more healthcare workers to perform procedures, and add legal protections so that people are not held liable for their pregnancy outcomes.

California lawmakers and Governor Gavin Newsom are working with the group to pass bills as quickly as possible before the legislative session ends in August. Their goal is to make California a haven for people in need of care. In December, Newsom told The Associated Press news agency, “We’ll be a sanctuary.”

Already, demand for abortions is increasing in California. In the first four months after Texas bill Senate Bill 8 – a law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” abortion – came into effect on September 1, 2021, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California told Al Jazeera they saw an anecdotal increase in Texan patients travelling to their state to get abortions.

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Arizona residents also continue to cross into California to get abortions, and Planned Parenthood expects those numbers to grow now that a 15-week ban is coming into effect there.