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’s governor, Gavin Newsom, had previously restricted the money in the state’s “abortion practical support fund” for in-state travel only, saying “we have to be realistic about what we can absorb”. That 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 revealed an amendment to the budget 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 stated, California is doing its part, but we cannot do it all – private donations and philanthropy will be critical to these efforts,” Newsom’s spokesperson, Alex Stack, said.
“We all need to step up to support women who are being denied reproductive freedoms by their state governments and are forced to come to California for abortion care.”
Jodi Hicks, the 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 in the aftermath of the US supreme court decision.
“None of that matters if we’re not also ensuring that patients can get to where they need to go,” she said. “Everyone deserves to get healthcare, including abortion, and unfortunately for half the country they need to travel outside the state they live in in order to get that.”
As some states move to outlaw or restrict abortion access, some state and local governments have acted to use public money to help women in those states travel to get 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 neighbouring Idaho – agreed to spend $15m to help women seek abortions. So far, $1m 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 funds amid growing demand for travel aid, according to Riley Keane, practical support lead for the group.
In California, some of the money could go to Access Reproductive Justice, the state’s only statewide abortion support fund. The group usually helps about 500 people a year get abortions, but director Jessica Pinckney said they had seen an increase since the supreme court decision.