Know Your Rights: Abortion Access in California
Abortion rights continue to be under direct attack across the U.S. This resource addresses abortion rights in California (for people living in California or traveling to California to access abortion). We will continue to update this resource as laws change (last updated March 2023).
For information on where you can get an abortion in California, and help paying for one, visit www.abortion.ca.gov.
Receiving Abortion-Related Care in California
Do I have the right to have an abortion in California?
Yes. Pregnant people in California have a fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and you do not have to provide any reason or medical justification for getting one. This right is protected under California’s Constitution and state law.
In 2022, California voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that specifically protects access to abortion and contraception. The 2022 United States Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning the federal right to an abortion does not impact your right to have an abortion in California.
California only limits abortions after the point of viability, which is when a physician determines based on a good-faith medical judgment that there is a reasonable likelihood the fetus can survive outside the uterus without extraordinary medical measures. Abortions can only be performed after the point of viability if a physician determines based on a good-faith medical judgment that continuing the pregnancy would pose a risk to the life or health of the pregnant person. These determinations are individual to the person and their situation.
What if I need help paying for an abortion or travel expenses?
ACCESS Reproductive Justice connects people to free and low-cost programs that pay for reproductive health care for people living in California, traveling to California, or traveling from California to receive an out-of-state abortion.
Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP) provides funding to clinics for abortion services and emergency contraceptives, including in California. While WRRAP does not work directly with patients to obtain funding, your health care provider may contact WRRAP on your behalf. For more information you can contact WRRAP at email@example.com.
You can also visit www.abortion.ca.gov for more information.
I am not a California resident. Can I come to California to have an abortion?
Yes. California does not have any residency requirements to receive an abortion. This means that you can travel to California to access an abortion if you live elsewhere. While other states may have laws imposing civil and/or criminal penalties against people who have an abortion and/or against people supporting someone with getting an abortion, California will not prosecute people for seeking or obtaining abortions even if they are from a state or country that bans abortions.
Can I be criminally prosecuted in California for pregnancy loss or for having an abortion?
No. No one in the state of California may be investigated, prosecuted, or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy or experiencing pregnancy loss.
Can a person or agency from another state that limits or bans abortion get access to my abortion medical records, or force my health care provider to provide information about my abortion in California?
No. Generally, health care providers and health care service plans cannot release identifying medical information regarding a person seeking or obtaining abortion care, without that person’s written consent. They also cannot be forced to provide information that would identify a person who has sought or obtained an abortion if that information is being requested based on a state’s laws that interfere with your right to get an abortion.
Can I be arrested in California for having an abortion in a state where it is illegal?
California will not enforce an arrest warrant from another state that is trying to prosecute someone for seeking or having an abortion.
Who may perform an abortion in California?
Doctors, licensed nurses/midwives, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants with proper training can perform abortions in California.
My medical provider refused to provide me with an abortion. Is that legal?
Possibly. A medical provider cannot be required to perform or assist in performing an abortion if they have filed a written statement with their hospital, clinic, or other facility explaining that they have a moral, ethical, or religious reason for refusing to participate in abortion. This rule does not apply in cases of medical emergencies and pregnancy loss.
Can I get a medication abortion using telehealth?
Yes, but there may be restrictions on how you access it.
California health centers typically offer medication abortion, also known as the abortion pill or medical abortion, for abortion and miscarriage care. Medication abortion can be made available either in-person or via telehealth (sometimes called telemedicine).
Telehealth allows you to talk to your health care provider on the phone or via video chat from your home or another location in California and receive medication abortion via mail or from your local pharmacy without having to go into your healthcare center. Many Planned Parenthood clinics offer medication abortions through telehealth. Visit https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-california-central-coast/patient-resources/telehealth to learn more. You can also access medication abortion through online clinics, such as Abortion on Demand, AidAccess, Choix, and Hey Jane.
However, a pending federal lawsuit in Texas, Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, seeks to block healthcare providers across the country from prescribing mifepristone—one of the most common medications used for medication abortions in the U.S. If successful, this lawsuit may severely impact the availability of mifepristone, and therefore impact the availability of medication abortions across the country, including in California. If you have an appointment to get a medication abortion, keep your appointment and talk to your health care provider to find out if and whether your care is impacted by any recent legal developments.
For more information about the status of medication abortion, and where you can still get one in California, visit https://abortion.ca.gov/.
You can learn more about mifepristone at https://www.aclu.org/news/reproductive-freedom/what-is-mifepristone-and-why-is-it-essential-to-abortion-access.
You can learn more about the Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA lawsuit at https://www.aclu.org/news/reproductive-freedom/abortion-case-lawsuit-ban-mifepristone.
My pharmacist refused to fill my abortion-related prescription. Is this legal?
Possibly. In January 2023, the FDA officially permitted mifepristone—one of two primary medications used for medication abortion—to be dispensed by certified retail pharmacies. Pharmacies that want to dispense mifepristone must apply for special certification. If a pharmacy does not want to dispense mifepristone, it can choose not to apply for the certification. As explained above, access to medication abortion may also be impacted by a pending federal lawsuit.
In general, individual pharmacists may refuse to dispense any drug on ethical, moral, or religious grounds if they have filed a written statement with their employer listing the drug or class of drug they morally, ethically, or religiously object to. Yet, the pharmacy must still ensure that you have timely access to your prescribed drug. If a pharmacist refuses to fill your prescription, the pharmacy should find another pharmacist who will dispense the medication you need.
I attend a University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) school. Can I obtain a medication abortion at my university’s health center?
Yes. As of January 1, 2023, all student health centers at a University of California or California State University must provide onsite medication abortion services through staff at the student health center, telehealth services, or contracted outside providers. Public university student health centers are not required to provide surgical or aspiration abortions.
However, as explained above, access to medication abortion in California could be impacted by a pending federal lawsuit in Texas. If you have an appointment for a medication abortion, keep your appointment and talk to your health care provider to find out if and whether your care is impacted by any recent legal developments.
What kinds of support can I request if I have a disability and need an abortion?
If they wish, people with disabilities who are seeking an abortion have the right to be accompanied by a support person, to request and receive written documents in plain language versions, and to receive other forms of reasonable accommodation.
In addition, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have the right to request and receive sign language interpreting, captioning, and/or other auxiliary aids and services at telehealth or in-person medical appointments from abortion providers.
Where counseling services are offered to support someone seeking an abortion, counselors fluent in sign language should also be available to support Deaf, DeafBlind, and DeafDisabled individuals seeking counseling.
I am under a conservatorship. Do I have a right to have an abortion?
Possibly. Your access to abortion may be impacted by a conservatorship if your rights to give consent for medical treatment are affected by the conservatorship. If so, your conservator may have the final authority to decide if you can obtain an abortion.
However, a conservator is required to act in your best interest and to accommodate and support what you want, taking into account good faith medical advice.
Can I have an abortion under a supported decision-making arrangement?
Yes, unless you are also under a conservatorship. Supported decision-making is a voluntary support arrangement, where you choose one or more “supporters” to help you make your own decisions. This can include getting support to make health care decisions such as whether to have an abortion. You do not need to get approval from your supporter(s) to have an abortion, and you can get an abortion even if your supporter(s) disagree.
Learn more about supported decision-making at https://www.aclu.org/other/supported-decision-making-resource-library.
There are people protesting outside of my abortion clinic. Is that legal?
Yes, it is legal to protest, hold signs, shout, and distribute literature outside of an abortion clinic. However, it is illegal to use physical force, threat of force, or physical obstruction to interfere with a person entering an abortion clinic. No one may block a clinic’s entrance, prevent a vehicle from entering the facility, stop patients from walking in, or make it difficult or dangerous to enter or exit the building. Trespassing, vandalism, stalking, or committing acts of violence against an escort, clinic employee, or patient, as well as arson and bombings, are prohibited.
Can my private insurer refuse to cover my abortion?
Generally, no. California law is clear that abortion care is basic health care, and insurance providers must cover basic health care. California private insurance providers cannot limit or exclude coverage for abortion.
However, this requirement does not apply to employers who provide “self-funded” health care plans. For help understanding your plan, you can call your insurer or contact the California Department of Insurance’s consumer hotline at (800)-927-4357 or visit http://www.insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/110-health/30-have/index.cfm.
Please see below for information about Medi-Cal and insurance for federal employees.
Can my private insurer impose a deductible, coinsurance, copayment, or any other cost-sharing requirement for abortion services?
No. In 2022, the Abortion Accessibility Act removed cost barriers to abortion care. Under the Act, health care service plans (including commercial plans) that are issued, amended, renewed, or delivered on or after January 1, 2023, may not impose a deductible, coinsurance, copayment, or any other cost-sharing requirement for any abortion and abortion-related services, including pre-abortion or post-abortion follow up services.
Can my private insurer require prior authorization or a similar type of review before covering my abortion?
It depends. Under the Abortion Accessibility Act, private health care service plans may not require prior authorizations on the coverage for outpatient abortion services.
However, even if your health care situation is one where your insurer may require prior authorization, you have a right to receive timely care. Urgent care appointments that require prior authorization must be scheduled within 96 hours (4 days) of your request, and non-urgent care appointments that require prior authorization must be scheduled within 15 days of your request. The process for obtaining prior authorization will vary depending on your insurer’s policies.
Can my private insurer require me to receive a referral from my doctor for an abortion?
No, you do not need to get a referral from your doctor to receive an abortion. This means that you do not need a referral from your primary care physician to visit a specialist like an OBGYN. Instead, you can make an appointment directly with a specialist.
Along with abortion services, insurers may not require referrals for:
- Pregnancy testing and prenatal care;
- Contraceptive services, including sterilization and counseling;
- Sexually transmitted disease screening, prevention services, and treatment; and
- HIV/AIDS screening and prevention services.
What can I do if there is no local abortion provider in my private insurance network?
If there is no local abortion provider in your insurance network, your private insurer must refer you to a local out-of-network provider to ensure that you receive the care you need in a timely manner for the same price you would pay an in-network provider.
Can my private insurer discriminate against me for having an abortion?
No. California law and the California Constitution prohibit private health insurers from discriminating against you for receiving any reproductive healthcare, including abortion care. For example, insurers cannot refuse to provide you with insurance because you had an abortion, nor can they change the pricing of your insurance plan.
Does my Medi-Cal insurance cover my abortion?
Yes. If you are enrolled in Medi-Cal, abortion and related services will be covered, and you will not need to pay any out-of-pocket costs, unless you are enrolled in Share of Cost Medi-Cal. Whether you are enrolled in Share of Cost Medi-Cal or free Medi-Cal depends on your income level.
For more information about Medi-Cal coverage visit https://www.dhcs.ca.gov/Pages/myMedi-Cal.aspx.
Can my Medi-Cal insurance require prior authorization for my abortion?
No, generally Medi-Cal enrollees cannot be required to obtain prior authorization for outpatient abortion services.
If I have Medi-Cal, can I seek an abortion from an out-of-network provider?
Yes. Medi-Cal enrollees may seek abortion services from any provider, even if the provider is out-of-network. If you choose to see an out-of-network provider for your abortion, you should not pay any more than you would if you saw an in-network provider.
Do I need any specific medical justification for my abortion?
No. Neither Medi-Cal nor private insurance plans may require “medical justification” for your abortion.
What if I do not have insurance coverage or my insurance does not cover abortions?
If you need abortion care, but you do not have Medi-Cal coverage or your insurer does not cover abortions, you may be eligible for California’s Presumptive Eligibility for Pregnant Women (PE4PW) Program. This program provides temporary Medi-Cal coverage for outpatient prenatal services, meaning pregnancy-related services that will not require an overnight stay in the hospital.
For more information about PE4PW, visit the Department of Health Care Services’ information page: https://www.dhcs.ca.gov/services/medi-cal/eligibility/Pages/PE_Info_women.aspx.
You can also visit www.abortion.ca.gov.
Does my Federal Employee Health Benefit Program cover abortions?
It depends. Health plans under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program only cover abortions when continuing the pregnancy will endanger the patient’s life or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.
Does my Peace Corps volunteer insurance cover abortions?
It depends. The health insurance plan for Peace Corps volunteers only covers abortions when continuing the pregnancy will endanger the person’s life or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
Does my Indian Health Services insurance plan cover abortions?
It depends. Indian Health Services funds only cover abortions when continuing the pregnancy will endanger the patient’s life or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. To be eligible for an abortion under the rape or incest exception, the patient must report they were a survivor of rape or incest within 60 days of the date on which the rape or incest occurred.
I am a member of the military. Can I obtain an abortion at a military hospital, and will it be covered by my health insurance?
It depends. Abortions cannot be performed at any Department of Defense facility, including military hospitals, unless continuing the pregnancy will endanger the patient’s life or the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.
Similarly, the health insurance plan for military members and their families only covers abortions when continuing the pregnancy will endanger the patient’s life or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.
Can I request that insurance-related communications about my abortion be sent to a location other than my usual mailing address?
Yes. The Confidential Health Information Act (CHIA) requires that health insurers take steps to keep your medical records private, even if you are not the policyholder. This includes not sharing your history of “sensitive service,” including abortion care.
Health insurers must also send communications relating to your health care directly to the person who received the services. However, to ensure confidentiality of your medical records it is strongly recommended that you contact your health insurer to confirm your mailing address, email address, and/or phone number to receive communications.
If I am married, will my insurance provider notify my spouse about my abortion?
No. As explained above, the Confidential Health Information Act (CHIA) requires that health insurers take steps to keep your medical records regarding sensitive medical services, including abortion care, private, even if you are not the policyholder. Health insurers should send communications directly to the person who received the services. However, to ensure confidentiality of your medical records it is strongly recommended that you contact your health insurer to confirm your mailing address, email address, and/or phone number to receive communications.
If I am a minor in California, can I consent to have an abortion without anyone else’s permission?
Yes. In California, minors have the right to consent to an abortion on their own. You do not need anyone’s permission—not your parents’ or guardian’s, nor your partner’s—to have an abortion.
For more information, visit www.teenhealthrights.org.
If I am a minor, do I have to bring someone with me to my abortion appointment?
No, you can go to your abortion appointment alone, but if you would like to bring someone with you for support you can. If you are having a surgical abortion you may want to bring someone with you to take you home from your appointment.
If I am a minor, will my health care provider inform my parent(s) or guardian(s) about my abortion?
No. In California, generally, healthcare providers cannot tell your parent(s) or guardian(s) that you had an abortion, unless they have your signed written consent.
However, if a minor reports child abuse, including physical abuse and/or sexual abuse, to a health care provider, the provider is likely required to report the abuse to the police or child abuse authorities. If child abuse is reported to the police or child abuse authorities, the minor’s parent(s) or guardian(s) may be contacted. It is up to you to decide whether to share how you became pregnant with your health care provider.
If I am a minor and a beneficiary on my parent’s or guardian’s health insurance plan, will they be able to access my medical records relating to abortion?
No. California law requires that health insurers take steps to keep your medical records private, even if you are not the policyholder. This includes not sharing your history of “sensitive services,” including abortion with your parent or guardian unless you have given your express authorization.
Health insurers are required to send communications relating to abortion care directly to the person who received the medical services. However, to ensure confidentiality of your medical records it is strongly recommended that you contact your health insurer to confirm your mailing address, email address, and/or phone number to receive communications.
If I am a minor, can I still get confidential access to an abortion?
Yes, as a minor in California you have the right to free or low-cost reproductive health care if you do not have insurance, including if you do not want to use your parent, guardian, or spouse’s insurance, or cannot afford it on your own.
The Medi-Cal Minor Consent Program confidentially covers abortion care for eligible minors. Minors who are under the age of 21 who still live with a parent, or who temporarily live elsewhere but are financially supported by their parents, may be eligible for the Medi-Cal Minor Consent Program.
You can learn more about Medi-Cal Minor Consent at https://www.teenhealthrights.org/teen_faq/what-is-medi-cal-minor-consent/.
Can I take time off from school to obtain an abortion?
Yes. California public school students may leave school for medical appointments for “confidential medical services,” including abortion care.
Your school must let you go to your appointment. You do not have to tell your school why you are going to the doctor or clinic, and your school cannot ask about the type of care you are receiving. You can just say that you have a “confidential medical appointment.” However, school staff can call the doctor or clinic to confirm that you have an appointment and the time of the appointment. Your absence must be excused, and your teachers must allow you to make up any missed assignments.
If I am a minor, can my public school tell my parent(s) or guardian(s) if I leave school to have an abortion?
No. California law requires school staff to excuse students from school to attend confidential medical appointments, including for abortion. Your school cannot require that you get parent or guardian permission first or notify your parent or guardian that you are leaving school to get an abortion or to attend a confidential medical appointment.
However, if a minor reports child abuse, including rape or sexual assault, to school staff then the staff are likely required to report it to the police or child abuse authorities. As a result, the police or child abuse authorities may contact a parent or guardian.
If I tell staff at my public school that I am pregnant, can they share that information with my parents or guardians?
Possibly. While school staff are not allowed to share information about a particular confidential medical appointment, they may be required to report a minor’s pregnancy depending on the information shared.
For example, if a minor reports child abuse, including physical abuse and/or sexual abuse, to a school staff member, then the provider is likely required to report the abuse to the police or child protective services. If child abuse is reported to the police or child protective services, a parent(s) or guardian(s) will likely be contacted.
Do I have a right to learn about my pregnancy options, including abortion, in school?
Yes. Under the California Healthy Youth Act, California public schools, including charter schools, are required to teach comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education at least twice to students—once in middle school and once in high school. Such education must include information about all pregnancy options, including parenting, adoption, and abortion, as well as information about local healthcare resources.
You can learn more about the California Healthy Youth Act at https://www.aclusocal.org/en/know-your-rights/sex-education.
You can also learn more about your rights as a student at www.myschoolmyrights.com.
Can I be fired for having an abortion?
Most employees are expressly protected from being fired, demoted, harassed, having their pay reduced, or otherwise being discriminated against for having an abortion, considering an abortion, or choosing to not have an abortion and continuing the pregnancy. However, there are a few types of employees that may not be covered under these laws, including:
- Certain employees of religious entities like churches, mosques, and religious schools; and
- Employees of very small employers. California discrimination protections described here apply to entities with at least 5 employees; and federal discrimination protections apply to entities with at least 15 employees.
Can I take sick leave to recover from my abortion?
Yes. If your employer provides sick leave, then you can take your accrued sick leave for abortion-related care. In California, employers are required to provide a minimum of 3 days of sick leave each year, which you can use for pregnancy and abortion-related care. Your employer cannot require you to explain the specifics of why you need sick leave.
Jails, Prisons, and Immigration Detention Centers
Do I have the right to have an abortion if I am incarcerated in jail or prison?
Yes. You still have the right to access abortion care while you are in a California jail or prison. While in jail or prison, no one can coerce you into obtaining an abortion or not obtaining an abortion. Prisons and jails also cannot put any barriers in your way, like unreasonably delaying access to the procedure, requiring you to pay upfront, or requiring a court order to transport you for abortion care.
If you are incarcerated in a California state prison or county jail, the prison or jail must provide abortion services at no cost.
If you are incarcerated in a federal prison, the Federal Bureau of Prisons will pay for the abortion only if the continuation of the pregnancy would endanger the life of the incarcerated person or if the pregnancy is the result of rape. If you wish, you may receive medical, religious, and social counseling in making your decision.
Can I obtain an abortion if I am a detainee in ICE custody?
Yes. A pregnant detainee in ICE custody, including minors, must have access to abortion services. No one can coerce you into obtaining an abortion or not obtaining an abortion. If you want an abortion, you must sign a written statement clearly stating your intent.
ICE must arrange, at no cost to the detainee, for transportation to the medical appointment and, if requested, access to religious or social counseling, including from social services or women’s community resource groups. ICE must cover the cost of the abortion only when continuing the pregnancy will endanger the person’s life or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest
Protecting Your Right to Choose Whether to Have an Abortion
If I believe my rights have been violated, whom should I contact?
If you are having issues with your health care plan covering abortion-related services, you can file a grievance or complaint directly with your plan. Depending on your plan type, you may also wish to file a complaint with:
- California Department of Managed Health Care at https://www.dmhc.ca.gov/fileacomplaint.aspx, or
- California Department of Insurance at http://www.insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/110-health/30-have/index.cfm
To file a complaint against a doctor over quality of care, please visit the Medical Board of California.
To file a discrimination complaint against an employer or health care provider, please visit the California Civil Rights Department.
You can also contact your local ACLU affiliate if you have any more questions, or believe your rights have been violated, at https://www.aclu.org/about/affiliates.