On May 5, practicing obstetrician- gynecologist Akilah Weber who currently serves in the California Assembly, and state Attorney General Rob Bonta addressed how California will respond if Roe v. Wade, a 1973 Supreme court case which ruled the right to abortion is a fundamental liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, is overturned.
The ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ roundtable discussion addressed efforts to lay groundwork in California ahead of the overturn, including how the state’s pro-choice stance affects funding, possible out-of-state visitors seeking healthcare, and protection under state law.
A May 2 Supreme court leak implied the federal body is likely to overturn the landmark ruling in coming months— if that happens, abortion and reproductive rights would revert to individual state rulings.
“This is a moment full of trauma and fear. Some states want to roll back 50 years of Constitutional rights and freedom,” Bonta said.
Currently, 13 states have laws in place which would immediately ban abortion upon the federal overturn: Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho.
“Here in California, we will be okay,” Weber said.
Three local stakeholders also participated in the reproductive justice roundtable along with Weber and Bonta: Planned Parenthood Vice President of External Affairs Vernita Gutierrez, American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties Executive Director Norma Chavez-Peterson, and Alliance Health Clinic Medical Director and physician Suzanne Afflalo who has served as Chief of the Family Medicine department for six years.
In September 2021 more than 40 organizations including health care providers, reproductive justice advocacy groups, legal and policy experts and researchers joined together to form the California Future of Abortion Council.
That FAC has made over 40 policy recommendations since then relating to seven focal areas: investment in abortion related services funding, investment in a diverse California abortion provider workforce and increased training opportunities for those historically excluded from health care professions, reduced administrative and institutional barriers to care, legal protection for abortion patients and providers, ensured access to medically accurate, culturally relevant, and inclusive education about abortion and access to care, and efforts to collect data and conduct research to assess and inform abortion care and education needs in California.
“I am one of two physicians out of 80 Assembly members and the only OB-GYN in the Assembly. When we’re talking reproductive justice, this has been a part of my life since medical school,” Weber said.
Weber authored Assembly Bill 2134 which would set aside money for clinics that provide uncompensated care to low-income patients whose insurance does not cover abortion and contraceptive services. That bill is currently in review by the appropriations committee.
“We know that banning abortions will not take away the need for abortions,” Gutierrez said, adding that young, Black and Indigenous women and girls already need more healthcare services than they receive and the overturn of Roe v Wade could further diminish their access to care.
California Senate Bill 1375, introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins and co-authored by California Assembly member Jim Wood was also discussed at the roundtable. It would allow some nurse practitioners to independently perform first-trimester abortions without a doctor’s supervision. Ostensibly, that law would provide more widespread access to the medical procedure in rural areas.
“I’ve lived in Louisiana and had to drive friend miles for an abortion. I’ve practiced in Texas and saw a systematic dismantling of access to reproductive rights for women and girls,” Weber said.
State Bill 1142 which was authored by Salinas Senator Anna Caballero and Berkeley Senator Nancy Skinner would create a state-administered fund to assist patients with financial barriers to obtaining an abortion, and support public research into improving statewide abortion access.
“After 30 years of practicing medicine, the reality is I’ve counseled women from birth to death, from premenstrual girls to college-aged students. Trying to stop the safe ways of having abortion is not going to stop abortions whether it is from rape or incest or another reason. Using various objects to terminate their pregnancy is not safe,” Affalo said.
Women choose to have an abortion for a variety of reasons, Weber said, and it is never an easy choice.
“Some women are in abusive situations, some are not mentally prepared and they may have done everything possible to prevent pregnancy. We don’t know why every woman chooses but what has happened over the past 50 years is a conversation between her and her physician,” Weber said.