Newsom signs bill protecting California abortion providers from civil liability

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A crowd gathers outside the Supreme Court on Monday night
A crowd outside the Supreme Court last month. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Friday that immediately protects abortion providers in California from liability when caring for patients traveling from areas where the procedure is now banned or access is narrowed.

Assembly Bill 1666 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) will protect providers and patients in California from civil liability judgements based on claims made in antiabortion states. It further cements the state's efforts to be a "beacon of hope" in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade.

Newsom said the law will push back against Republican states that allow private lawsuits against abortion providers and patients. Last year, Texas passed a law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.

"We will in no way shape or form, support, enable, investigate, resource, any of those activities or energies," Newsom said, adding that the new law is part of a larger package of more than a dozen bills aimed at providing "true sanctuary" for those seeking or providing abortions in the state.

California has been preparing for months for the likelihood that thousands of people would travel to the state from areas of the country where bans are resurrected for the first time since 1973. Various bills and budget proposals are in the works, calling for millions to be set aside for abortion services for the uninsured, workforce programs to increase the number of providers and to assist patients with the cost of traveling from other states.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports reproductive health and abortion rights, said 26 states will ban all, or nearly all, abortions now that the landmark case has been overturned.

UCLA’s Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy released a report this month estimating that 8,000 to 16,000 more people will travel to California each year for abortion care. That includes up to 9,400 more people from antiabortion states seeking care in Los Angeles County alone, according to the report.

California law grants anyone of reproductive age “the fundamental right to choose to bear a child or to choose and to obtain an abortion.” That includes minors, who under state law can consent to an abortion without their parents' knowledge.

The state allows a woman to have an abortion until the point that a physician determines “there is a reasonable likelihood of the fetus’ sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures” or if the procedure is necessary in order to “protect the life or health of the woman.”

State law does not stipulate the exact point in a pregnancy when viability occurs, instead allowing a physician to make that determination based on “good-faith medical judgment.” In most cases, doctors have considered a fetus viable at 24 weeks.

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said the state will ensure that patients are provided the reproductive care they need, no matter where they live.

“You have the right to an abortion here," Bonta said. "You have the right to an abortion before viability without a reason. You have the right to an abortion after viability to protect your life or your health. You have the right to obtain an abortion without parental consent. I will not back down from defending these rights, expanding them and keeping our clinics accessible and safe, because in California, we refuse to turn back the clock and let radical ideologies exert control over your body.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.