California readies for wave of out-of-state abortion-seekers
Activists supporting a woman's right to choose to have an abortion protested in March 2020 outside the US Supreme Court(AFP)

California is preparing to welcome an influx of people seeking abortions from across the country if the United States Supreme Court overturns the half-century old legal framework guaranteeing a woman's right to a termination.

The issue of abortion is a faultline that runs through US society, pitting the liberal coastal states against conservative rural regions that want to ban or heavily curtail the practice.

Encouraged by state governor Gavin Newsom and other elected Democrats, a coalition of over 40 California-based organizations laid out a plan Wednesday for steps the state should take to ensure abortions are accessible to everyone -- whether they live in the state or not.

These include boosting capacity, and providing funding to allow patients to travel to receive care.

The California Future of Abortion (FAB) Council was created in late-September when a new Texas law banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

"I applaud the establishment of the FAB Council," Newsom said at the time, adding that his administration would work to "ensure California is expanding access to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion, in the wake of the dangerous, harmful, and unconstitutional restriction put in place in Texas."

While progressives have been exercised by developments in Texas, they are increasingly alarmed by signs the Supreme Court appears ready to uphold a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks.

Doing so could effectively neuter the landmark 1973 "Roe v. Wade" case that enshrined a woman’s right to an abortion if the fetus was not viable outside the womb, which a subsequent ruling pegged at 23 weeks.

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank, estimates 26 states are "certain or likely to ban abortion without Roe."

They include 21 states that already have laws or constitutional amendments ready and waiting to come into force.

That would leave women seeking abortions with little option but to travel to states where the procedure is permitted.

The FAB Council plan hopes to prepare California for this potential shift, and serve as a model for other states across the country.

'Reproductive freedom' for all

Associations working in reproductive health are already feeling the effects of the Texas ban; the Planned Parenthood network in California -- hundreds of miles (kilometers) away -- says it now sees two or three patients per day from the southern state.

"We have seen an increase in Texas callers," said Jessica Pinckney, executive director of the Access Reproductive Justice, a California NGO which provides administrative and financial support to women seeking abortions.

"We know that the barriers for folks who are coming from out of state tend to be higher, because they often have to get on a plane, a bus or a train to be able to come to California."

"It's really imperative that California takes the lead and lives up to its proclamation as a reproductive freedom state," Pinckney added.

In 2014, California enacted a law requiring private employers and insurance companies to cover abortions in their plans.

Newsom went further in May 2019, issuing a proclamation on reproductive freedom and condemning other states’ restrictions.

Former president Donald Trump attempted to limit federal funds to California over its abortion provisions in December 2020, which Newsom described as "extreme presidential overreach," adding: "Women's health is public health."