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Bills to bolster abortion access in California headed to governor’s desk

The raft of bills seek to expand reproductive health care access and rights — and not just for Californians.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — An ambitious effort to increase reproductive health care access in California — poised as a sanctuary amid the fall of Roe v. Wade — has passed through the Legislature.

With hours left in the 2022 legislative session, the Legislature showed its support for people traveling to the state to access health care services by creating an abortion support fund, originally part of Assembly Bill 1142. If signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, California will spend up to $20 million for travelers seeking abortion health care, as the right to access these services grows increasingly restricted or completely banned in many states since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Newsom previously restricted money in the state’s “abortion practical support fund” for in-state travelers. But after weeks of lobbying from pro-choice advocates, who reminded Newsom he vowed to make California a sanctuary, he revealed a new plan. This past week, Newsom and legislative leaders hammered out an amendment to the state budget through next year allowing the state to spend public money on out-of-state travel for abortions.

Passed through both chambers Tuesday, the amended SB 1142 also creates a framework to improve access to and education about reproductive health services across the state, requiring the California Health and Human Services Agency to establish a website for people to find information on local abortion services.

Senate Bill 1375 would allow a nurse practitioner or nurse midwife to perform an abortion. It adjusts what training and proof of competency is required to be licensed to perform these services, and can prohibit some people from performing abortions. The bill’s goal is to increase the number of providers who can provide abortion services, with medical bottlenecks expected. 

“By expanding the number of nurse practitioners who can perform first trimester abortions, SB 1375 would give more people the ability to get the timely, essential care they need from a provider they know and trust,” said the bill’s author, state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego, in a statement. “California is facing a serious doctor shortage that is only anticipated to worsen over the next 10 years. It would leave countless women and families at great risk, but there is a solution in front of us — nurse practitioners.”

The Northern California reproductive health clinic Women's Health Specialists applauded the bill. “This bill is an important step to ensuring that CA protects and expands access to abortion services,” the clinic tweeted Tuesday. 

Assembly Bill 2223, which would bar prosecution of people for seeking reproductive health care, also went to Newsom's desk Tuesday. The bill would remove requirements for a coroner to hold inquests for deaths connected to known or suspected abortion. It would also prohibit using the coroner’s statements on a certificate of fetal death to create a criminal case against a person regarding their pregnancy. 

The state Senate must still sign off on Senate Bill 2134, which would establish a program to provide insurance coverage to Californians who don't have coverage for abortion-related care, including those who either do not have insurance or are underinsured.

The bill would authorize Medi-Cal providers to apply to provide abortion and contraception at low or no cost to people who meet certain poverty thresholds and are not eligible to receive abortion and contraception through state programs. It would establish the California Reproductive Health Equity Fund, and requires a health care plan or insurer covering employees of a religious employer that does not include abortion and contraception coverage to provide information to enrollees about services that might be free.

Assembly Bill 2320, which creates a pilot program to direct funds to primary care clinics that provide reproductive health care services in five counties, awaits Newsom's signature. The bill would also require a participating primary care clinic to improve health care delivery for marginalized patients, and to report on efforts annually.

Republicans opposed the raft of legislation.

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