It's a Good Day to Be a Woman in California

Issues :  
By: Phyllida Burlingame

Today, I feel grateful to be a woman in California.

Yesterday, Governor Brown signed AB 154, a bill authored by Assemblymember Toni Atkins that expands access to abortion care by authorizing trained health professionals to provide early abortions. The legislation addresses a current shortage in the state—52% of California counties don’t have an accessible abortion provider—and allows women to receive care in their own communities from providers they already know and trust.

At a time when reproductive health, rights, and justice are under attack in so much of our country, the success of AB 154 is not just a California victory, it’s a national one. The new law provides a much-needed beacon of hope to people in other states who are fighting hard simply to prevent the rollback of current rights and services. It changes the national debate, ensuring that restrictions on reproductive healthcare don’t become normalized. And it provides a model for policymakers elsewhere who are seeking to support women’s access to care.

AB 154 also sends a clear message that it’s not enough to protect what we already have. Because even in a state like California, where we are fortunate not to be suffering the harsh political attacks felt elsewhere, there is still much hard work to be done to make reproductive rights a reality for all. This law is necessary for rural women, who often have to travel long distances and make arrangements at work and for child care in order to obtain an abortion. It is also necessary for urban women, many of whom face long delays in getting medical appointments. By expanding the types of health professionals who can provide early abortions to include nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants, AB 154 significantly reduces these barriers and improves access to care for Californians.

The passage of this bill should also be counted as a victory for science. AB 154 is supported by results from a comprehensive five-year pilot project conducted by the University of California San Francisco, which showed that trained health professionals can safely provide early abortions and that women appreciated receiving care in their own communities. The results of the 16,000-patient study, the largest ever in the United States, were published earlier this year in the prestigious American Journal of Public Health. This stands in stark contrast to restrictive bills passed in other states that rely heavily on junk science—perhaps most notable is Kansas' law requiring that, among other things, women be told by their doctors that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, despite the fact that this claim has been thoroughly discredited.

Expanded access to abortion was not the only reproductive justice victory in California this year. Also recently signed was a bill to protect patient privacy for sensitive services by closing a health insurance loophole, another ensuring that abortion-providing clinics are not subjected to different licensing and building standards than other primary care clinics, a third that expands paid family leave, and another that improves access to child care and reproductive health education for foster youth.

These and other victories did not come easily. They were hard won by a vibrant community of advocates and activists working together to create change. The ACLU of California is proud to have joined with 33 other organizations in the California Women’s Health Alliance to secure passage of AB 154, and we are so grateful to those of you who helped us along the way.

Today is a time for celebration in California. Tomorrow, we at the ACLU and our many allies will set our sights on the next challenge ahead.

Phyllida Burlingame is the Reproductive Justice Policy Director at the ACLU of Northern California.