Move to protect abortion pill vendors in California

Move to protect abortion pill vendors in California

  • US News
  • March 18, 2023
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California physicians or pharmacists who prescribe or dispense abortion pills to out-of-state patients would enjoy new legal protections under a recently proposed rule in the Golden State.

The new law, SB345, would prevent health care providers who legally work in California from being prosecuted or extradited to another state — a growing concern as more states criminalize abortion and other reproductive health care.

The proposal would protect against criminal or civil action against healthcare providers and also allow those providers to sue anyone who attempts to prevent such abortion treatment.

State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) introduced the bill Friday after hearing from doctors and other providers concerned about potential legal ramifications for providing abortion pills to patients in states like Texas and Idaho — where abortion is prohibited and abortion pills are criminalized or banned. She said many California doctors continued to work with patients who might have relocated to attend college, to fulfill a job rotation, or even relocated permanently.

“I’m trying to protect our doctors so they can do their jobs without fear,” Skinner said Friday. She said that if the law were passed, it would “protect California practitioners who act in California and follow California laws.”

The measure would not cover physicians traveling outside of California to provide health care or to provide legal protection to out-of-state patients who receive abortion pills in the mail from California providers.

Skinner’s proposal would also provide legal protections for health care workers in California who prescribe or dispense contraceptives or gender-affirming care, regardless of a patient’s geographic location.

The proposal is part of a package of legislation introduced at this session that aims to further strengthen California’s status as a safe haven and beacon for abortion access as many Republican-majority states move in the opposite direction. The Legislature last session passed a series of bills working toward that goal, following the Roe vs. Wade reversal, and a coalition of lawmakers including Skinner hopes to build on that.

“We wouldn’t have to do this if states didn’t criminalize basic health care,” Skinner said. She said the county has seen a spate of “attacks” on trans people and reproductive rights over the past year.

Skinner said her bill is similar to some recently proposed legislation in other blue states, including Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and Maryland, which also aims to enshrine physicians’ ability to make out-of-state abortions accessible, typically through mail-order of abortion pills.

She said her bill would “further protect our healthcare providers who extend a lifeline to their patients who may be in a state where medically safe and effective treatments are now illegal.”

Anti-abortion advocates continue to push for mail-order abortion pills, and many say bills like the one proposed in California would violate a clause in the US Constitution that requires states to give “full faith and credit” to the laws of other states.

Mary Rose Short, the director of California Right to Life, who disagrees with the legality of abortion, called Skinner’s bill “propaganda and disinformation.” She criticized how the bill defines abortion, even though it’s illegal in other states, as “legally protected health care activities.”

However, Skinner said her bill would only apply to health care provided in California — which other states cannot oversee — and called access to abortion “essential health care,” which has been repeatedly affirmed in the state. In November, Californians voted overwhelmingly to add abortion protection to the state constitution.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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