California is preparing to spend up to $20m (£17m) to bring women from other states to its abortion clinics, a policy aimed at increasing access to a procedure that has been outlawed or restricted in many states since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom had previously limited money in the state’s “practical abortion support fund” to only in-state travel, saying “we have to be realistic about what we can absorb.” The decision surprised pro-choice advocates, especially since Newsom, a Democrat, had vowed to make California a sanctuary for women in other states seeking abortions.
Pro-choice advocates spent weeks lobbying the governor’s office on the issue. On Friday, days before the end of the legislative session, Newsom and legislative leaders unveiled a budget amendment that would allow the state to spend public money on out-of-state travel for abortions. Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on it next week.
While the fund will receive public money, it also accepts private donations — something the Newsom administration said would be important to cover costs.
“As the governor has said, California is doing its part, but we can’t do it all — private donations and philanthropy will be critical to these efforts,” said Newsom spokesman Alex Stack.
“We must all step up to support women who are denied their reproductive freedoms by their state governments and are forced to come to California for abortion care.”
Jodi Hicks, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said the change was significant given that state officials had been working for months to increase the state’s capacity to provide abortions following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.
“None of that matters if we’re not also making sure patients can get where they need to go,” she said. “Everyone deserves access to health care, including abortion, and unfortunately for half the country they have to travel outside their state to get it.”
As some states move to ban or limit access to abortion, some state and local governments have acted to use public money to help women in those states travel to have the procedure. In Republican-led states, city leaders in St. Louis, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, have pledged to use public money to help women get abortions.
State lawmakers in Oregon — anticipating an abortion ban in neighboring Idaho — agreed to spend $15 million to help women seek abortions. So far, $1 million has gone to the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, a nonprofit that helps patients pay for travel and the procedure itself.
The fund exhausted its planned operating budget this year and had to approve additional emergency funding amid growing demand for travel assistance, according to Riley Keane, head of practical support for the group.
In California, part of the money could go to Access Reproductive Justice, the state’s only statewide abortion support fund. The group typically helps around 500 people a year get abortions, but director Jessica Pinckney said they had seen an increase since the Supreme Court ruling.
Pinckney said the group recently helped more women living in other states than from California in one week.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in Texans and Arizonans. “We’re also starting to see people coming from Louisiana, Alabama — a lot further than we would have anticipated,” Pinckney said. “I don’t necessarily think we have the full story of what things are going to look like now in this post-Roe era.”
The California Family Council, a nonprofit that opposes abortion rights, has lobbied against the spending this year. Jonathan Keller, the group’s president, said the state should spend tax dollars on what he says are more pressing issues, such as homelessness and housing.
“The idea that the most urgent use of state funds would be paying for people from red states to fly here to get abortions on taxpayer dime in California is really just a delusion,” he said.
This year’s state budget authorizes $4.8 billion in spending over three years for housing and homelessness programs, on top of the $9 billion the Legislature approved last year, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.