Democratic states are finding themselves in uncharted territory as they set up funds to support abortion access not only for their own residents, but for those traveling from states where the procedure could be banned.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said Tuesday that the state will allocate $35 million to protect abortion providers, the latest of at least 42 cost-related measures introduced in 12 states this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Many are girding for a surge in demand for care, as neighboring states continue to restrict abortion access in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Blue states are taking more concrete efforts to cast themselves as abortion havens and combat the ongoing upheaval in access to reproductive care that was ratcheted up following the leaked Supreme Court opinion draft that may overturn Roe v. Wade. Reversing the 50-year precedent would mean abortion would no longer be protected by the U.S. Constitution and that states could make their own laws.
States led by Democrats want to ensure that there’s enough money to support the current framework of abortion procedures as well as a potential surge in demand from those traveling for the care.
Those funds could serve as a critical lifeline to thousands of people expected to travel for the procedure if it’s outlawed in their home states, including more than 32,000 expected to travel to New York from Ohio and Pennsylvania alone, according to the Guttmacher Institute. “An abortion costs about $550, and if you’re traveling, that’s hundreds of dollars more,” Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst with the organization, said. “That means a lot of people cannot afford an abortion.”
Jessica Arons, a senior policy council at the American Civil Liberties Union, expects such legislation to create further conflict between states, both ideologically and legally.
“With the Supreme Court turning its back on abortion rights, it is creating a vacuum that many states will rush to fill on both sides of the debate,” Arons said.
State Attorney General Letitia James, along with state elected officials, proposed legislation that would create a fund to support abortion providers and nonprofits that provide financial support for low-income residents, as well as those coming in from states with more onerous restrictions or bans.
Nearly 7,000 abortion procedures performed in the state, or about 1 in 10, were for non-residents in 2019. That number could more than quadruple if Roe v. Wade is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The state Department of Health would operate the program, which would provide funds for care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay for care or their insurance status.
Hochul’s $35 million pledge would protect abortion providers in the state, with $25 million slated to provide safe access to abortion providers, and the remainder allocated for security.
California officials voiced plans to place a measure on ballots as soon as November that would enshrine abortion rights into the state’s constitution.
A package of 13 bills moving through the state legislature would address a range of access issues by funding abortion organizations, reducing bureaucratic hurdles, enacting legal protections for providers and patients coming from anti-abortion states as well providing financial assistance to those seeking care.
Gavin Newsom, the California governor up for re-election this year, is expected to address a barrage of spending proposals from Democrats to support abortion rights in his revised budget on Friday.
Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot earmarked $500,000 from the city’s Department of Public Health to support access to reproductive health care for Chicagoans and patients seeking safe, legal care from neighboring states. The move was part of a broader pledge by the mayor to maintain the city’s status as a haven.
Illinois has seen an increase in non-residents seeking abortion care in recent years. Abortion caregivers in Illinois provided services to over 7,500 people from out of state in 2019, more than double the number seen in 2014, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.
Governor Kate Brown signed legislation in April that established a $15 million fund aimed at providing immediate and urgent patient needs for abortion funds as well as costs like travel and lodging.
The move predates the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, and was made in anticipation of neighboring Idaho’s ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The funds are also intended to help expand provider network capacity, according Seeding Justice, the nonprofit administering the program.
State representatives included a provision within the House’s proposed 2023 budget to set aside $500,000 for three abortion funds in an effort to expand access, and state Senator Karen Spilka has indicated that the Senate will increase that to $2 million.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, said “we would certainly entertain additional funding for those providers to make sure they have the resources they need to take care of the people that need their services.”
Lawmakers earmarked $3.5 million per year starting in 2023 to train clinicians who aren’t doctors to serve as abortion providers, but Republican Governor Larry Hogan has indicated he would withhold those funds. He previously vetoed the Abortion Care Access Act, which set the provision for that money. The House later overruled that decision and the act is set to go into effect on July 1.
The bill also reforms how residents can access state Medicaid funds to cover their abortion care. “Because of the bureaucracy in the state, it was very hard for patients to actually access that care,” said Arons with the ACLU.
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