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How California Created The Nation’s Easiest Abortion Access — And Why It’s Poised To Go Further With Roe Under Threat

Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue hold dozens of signs ranging from "abortion is murder" to "keep abortion legal." They are dressed for cold weather and stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Demonstrators gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, a case about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, on December 1, 2021.
(Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images)
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Living in a “post-Roe world” is no longer a phrase bandied about by abortion rights activists to describe a worst-case scenario. It’s reality.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade June 24, eliminating the constitutional right to obtain an abortion that has stood for nearly five decades. A leaked opinion draft signaled an end to federal protections in May had already spurred on a push by Gov. Gavin Newsom and many state Democrats to make the state a “sanctuary” for people seeking abortions.

The court’s decision is a win for conservatives who have steadily chipped away at abortion rights nationally through lawsuits and legislation. A cascade of abortion bans were triggered in 18 states when the decision landed, and dozens of other state legislatures are considering 15-week bans, abortion pill bans and bans modeled after Texas’ controversial law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps someone obtain an abortion after six weeks.

California has firmly bucked the trend. A constitutional amendment prohibiting the state from denying or interfering with abortions is well on its way to the November ballot, where voters will decide on the measure. And a package of 13 bills aimed at removing barriers and protecting patients by strengthening privacy protections, ensuring providers and patients cannot be sued or prosecuted and funding procedures and travel costs has sailed through the Legislature with little opposition.

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But California wasn’t always a bastion for reproductive rights. It took decades of black market abortions, a national rubella epidemic, an international drug scandal, several high-profile trials against physicians, and thousands of maternal deaths for California to decriminalize abortion. In fact, abortion remained illegal in the state until 1967, when then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act.

In the ensuing years, California has garnered the distinction of being the state that goes furthest to allow easy access to abortion. So how did we get here?

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