Opinion: How California Can Lead the Nation on Access to Reproductive Health Care 

Photo by Vesperstock/iStock.

It’s been nearly two years since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the right to legal abortion in this country. The litany of tragic stories feels endless: patients forced to wait until they are sufficiently close to death to access necessary medical care; young victims of assault forced to continue pregnancies against their will; and countless others traveling across multiple states to access basic health care that ought to be easily accessible close to home. Recent news from Florida indicates that it’s about to get much worse.

Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban into law in 2023, in a late-night, closed-door ceremony befitting a piece of harmful legislation. This month, on May 1, the ban finally took effect. Millions of people will effectively lose their last remaining access point to legal, in-person abortion care. It is nothing less than a looming humanitarian crisis.

To be clear, this is not a crisis limited in scope to residents of states with bans. Patients from across the South have been relying on abortion providers in The Sunshine State as clinics in their own backyard shuttered. Fourteen states, primarily in the South and Mid-West, now ban abortion at all stages of pregnancy. Georgia and South Carolina ban abortion beyond six weeks of pregnancy — before many even know that they are pregnant. 

Thanks to the incredible work of patient navigators, abortion funds and reproductive health care clinics, thousands of people have traveled across state lines since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022. Data from the Guttmacher Institute estimates that one in five patients receiving an abortion in this country was forced to leave their home state for care. Many travel to California, drawn in part by our reputation as a safe haven for sexual and reproductive health care.

At Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, we have always seen patients from other parts of the country and even other parts of the world. In anticipation of Dobbs, we invested in our staff and facilities to ensure that patients from near and far can find affordable and high-quality access to abortion. We recently saw a patient who had been turned away due to legal restrictions in three different states before she made it to Southern California — ten weeks after her initial attempt to be seen in her home state. Weeks of waiting for appointments, only to be canceled at the last minute as laws changed, added unnecessary stress and cost to her care. I’m grateful that we could offer her the care she needed at no charge, but she shouldn’t have had to travel to us in the first place.

A Planned Parenthood health center in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.

Not every patient can navigate the heavy personal and financial burdens that accompany out-of-state travel. Even in states where abortion is banned, some patients can still access abortion pills to end their pregnancy safely. But too many others are forced to continue pregnancies against their will, causing real harm that reaches far into the future. The tragic health consequences of abortion bans are well-documented, including:

• A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that states with abortion restrictions suffer a 16 percent increase in infant mortality rate.

• A report by the Gender Equity Policy Institute found that “mothers living in a state that banned abortion after Dobbs were up to 3 times as likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth or soon after giving birth.”

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this looming reproductive health crisis. Voting is critical, of course, but any remedy found at the ballot box will come too late for the patients who need care now. Clinics and abortion funds have fundraised and expanded capacity over the past year and continue to do so. Shield laws and advocacy efforts have put as many protections in place as are politically possible. These efforts are vital and yet still feel insufficient to address the enormous harm caused by right-wing ideologues who would rather control people’s bodies than take care of their populace.

That doesn’t mean we stop fighting. On a personal level, it’s choosing to talk about abortion and the vital role it plays, deconstructing the stigmatized walls that isolate us when we need community. If you have the means, it’s giving to the providers and abortion funds who are standing in the gap for patients, near and far, who need help. In this era of misinformation and polarization, it’s being a trusted source of information, a supportive shoulder to cry on, or the kind aunt who will make a “no questions asked” loan.

As Californians, we have a responsibility to lead the nation — to demonstrate what compassionate, accessible and equitable access to reproductive health care can and should look like. We cannot look away or become hardened to the real harms being caused by abortion bans across the country. I’m so grateful to live and work in a city where we can provide the affordable, high-quality and equitable care that patients deserve, regardless of their zip code.

Sue Dunlap is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, which operates 24 community-based health centers in Los Angeles County.

X Close

Subscribe to Our Mailing List