California is positioning itself as a sanctuary for people seeking abortions NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with Toni G. Atkins, the head of California's Senate, about how the state is positioning itself at the forefront of abortion rights.

California is positioning itself as a sanctuary for people seeking abortions

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The Supreme Court is weighing whether to overturn Roe v. Wade in the coming months. Abortion rights activists are preparing for a future where the landmark decision is dismantled. California is preparing, too. It's positioning itself as a so-called sanctuary for people seeking abortions. A new proposal calls for increased funding for abortion providers. The legislation would also assist low-income women who come from out of state for abortion services. The head of California's senate, Toni Atkins, is leading the push for the bill. She spoke to Rachel Martin.

TONI ATKINS: This is the biggest threat that I have seen in the 3 1/2 decades that I've been engaged, involved in this issue. And so we're very concerned. And we want to be ready. But, you know, if the Supreme Court is going to let states wreak havoc by openly defying established federal law and precedent, I think you're going to see more states empowered to take bolder legal and legislative actions. I think California feels that the right to privacy and a woman's right to choice is part of our Constitution. And we need to make sure that our residents are going to continue to be able to access the service. And we know what will happen. And we've already seen it in California with women coming from out of state. Already, the numbers have increased. So you know, we feel, from a practical level, we need to be prepared and ready.


So let's talk about that. This isn't just about protecting the rights of California state residents. You're talking about covering the financial cost of people who live out of state who want to come into California to get abortion services, right? Can California afford to do that?

ATKINS: Well, in some respect, we already have been doing that. This fund is the thing that has resonated most that people have heard about, the sanctuary state and the funding. But we have funds throughout California. When I ran a clinic, there was a local fund in San Diego that was available for women whether they were Californians - for example, women in the military cannot access abortion services on military bases and hospitals. And they're not funded. So we already have precedent and record of supporting women, women from Mexico - I live in a border city - who need access. And women across the country where abortion has been restricted in past decades have come here. So we already have the roadmap. Now, it doesn't mean there's an open checkbook in California. This will be, in our minds, a public-private partnership, as it always has been. It's also about making sure access - and we have the providers and we have the network available here in California to actually provide the service.

MARTIN: Do you have enough abortion providers?

ATKINS: No, we don't. And that was part of the reason for this report, Rachel. It was not just to make a statement, it's a statement of our values. And our budget, we feel, is a statement of our values. It's about assessing where we are and what we need to do. And that will be part of what I think Governor Newsom has already said as we go into January and he proposes his budget. I look forward to him making recommendations for how we can strengthen that foundational network of providers.

MARTIN: I'll just press slightly again on the money issue, though. Where does the extra money come from? Do you have enough in the state budget as it is?

ATKINS: Well, we have a surplus. But I do think we're going to expect philanthropic partners to step up. This is a call to action to all of those people I've known for decades that have worked on this issue. I've met with a number of folks. I said, this is our call to action. We are going to have to double down.

MARTIN: Have you heard from state leaders elsewhere interested in doing what you're doing there?

ATKINS: I haven't yet, but I expect that will happen. I think it's relatively new, the ruling and the reaction by California. I would imagine states like New York and some others are going to step forward and try to emulate and do some of what we're doing.

MARTIN: California Senate President pro Tem Toni G. Atkins. Thank you so much for your time.

ATKINS: Rachel, thank you.

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