An Overview of the Abortion Laws in California


The Roe v Wade ruling of the Supreme Court made abortions legal in the United States. Although the practice was legalized at the federal level, each state has the authority to pass laws about abortions that restricts or limits the practice within its borders. California provides access to abortion services within its borders. Abortion is legal under state law, but the state does place some limitations on when women may terminate their pregnancies. Pregnant women need to understand the laws. Receiving abortions in California that are outside of the legal limitations, or providing abortions outside of legal parameters may result in criminal charges and consequences. Here is an overview of the laws that go into more detail to help women understand their rights to choose what is right for their bodies during pregnancy in California.

California’s abortion laws are not the same as other states

Some states provide lenient laws governing abortions, while states like Texas, have banned abortion and made it a criminal activity for clients and providers. California offers some of the strongest support for women’s reproductive rights, but there are caveats in the law. It’s essential to become familiar with the details of the laws regulating abortion to avoid breaking the law, for each state. In California, abortion is defined as the medical termination of a pregnancy, ending the life of a fetus in a way that does not result in a live birth. Abortion providers may not legally induce the birthing process to cause the child to be born, and then die when it is separated from the mother’s body. Abortions are legal until the fetus is considered to be viable for survival outside of the womb.

The legal position of the state of California on abortion

Cal Matters explains that California has come a long way in its reform of abortion laws. Abortion was illegal in California until 1967. things began to change with the passage of the Therapeutic Abortion Act, signed into law by Ronald Reagan when he was governor of the state. Throughout the years of California’s criminalization of abortion, black market abortions were performed with numerous maternal deaths and physicians on the trial for performing the procedures. After decades of denying women the right to reproductive choice, the state opened up and loosened its policies. the 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling of the US Supreme Court provided a guarantee of women’s constitutional right to abortion services. It provided the protections that allowed lawmakers to act on the will of the people who called for widespread access to abortions. California lawmakers continued to support abortion rights with guarantees through its state constitution and its statutes. The state pays for Californian residents of low-income status to obtain abortions on its Medi-Cal coverage plan. The state mandates private insurance carriers providing policies in the state to cover abortion services. California lawmakers went so far as to reject proposals to require parental consent or waiting periods for abortion. Although California is one of the most supportive pro-choice states, there are limitations and restrictions.

Limitations on women’s abortion rights in California

The House California Law Group confirms that abortion is a fundamental right for women in California. It is a right that comes with limitations, however. The absolute right to abortion requires that the fetus has not yet become viable and the procedure must be necessary to protect the health or life of the mother. If a mother’s health is endangered, the limitations are lifted to favor efforts to preserve the mother’s health, even if the fetus is viable. Women have a predefined window of time to decide if abortion is the desired or necessary choice for them.

When is the latest to legally have an abortion in California?

California’s abortion laws do not provide a specific time frame for when a fetus becomes viable. The typical gestation age that determines the viability of a fetus is near the 23rd week of pregnancy. Some physicians believe that a fetus becomes viable when it reaches a minimum weight of 500 grams. Viability is determined by a medical doctor who decides fetus viability on a case-by-case basis. Viability means that the fetus could survive outside of the uterus without the requirement for physicians to make extraordinary medical steps.

Who can legally provide abortion services in California

Abortion is a medical procedure that comes with risks to the mother’s health as any medical procedure. The act of performing abortions requires medical expertise and training in the procedure. Surgical abortions can only be performed by medical professionals who possess a current and valid medical license. Those with suspended or revoked licenses cannot legally perform a surgical abortion. Other types of abortions that use medication may be performed by a more broad category of healthcare professionals. The list of qualified practitioners includes nurse-midwives, physician assistants, licensed nurses, and nurse practitioners.

Attitudes toward abortion in California

Californians have undergone a change in attitude about abortion over the past several decades. Public opinion, which is a driver for the enactment of laws and statutes has changed. An event that spurred the first wave of mass numbers of women seeking abortions in California was the Thalidomide crisis. Thousands of women were given the drug in the 1950s to lessen morning sickness symptoms in pregnant women. Doctors did not realize that the medication could cause severe birth defects. Before the drug was banned over 10,000 babies with limb malformations, cognitive disabilities, and kidney dysfunction appeared. the rubella epidemic that broke out in the United States during the 1960s infected more than 12 million, leading to serious complications and birth defects in babies including blindness, deafness, and intellectual issues. Californian women did not have access to abortions during the height of these issues and many, faced with giving birth to a child who would suffer from unknown birth defects traveled to Mexico for backstreet abortions. Many of them suffered serious complications and death as a result. Public opinion began to change with the health issues women faced when forced to seek illegal and life-threatening procedures or give birth to a child with health complications. Legislators began to discuss the issue in 1962, citing the number of maternal deaths from illegal abortions. When taken to the state supreme court, the measure that sought to legalize some abortions failed. It was not until 1967 that enough people who lobbied for pro-choice and women’s reproductive rights won a small victory with the Therapeutic Abortion Act. It was followed a few years later by Roe v Wade, which opened up legal channels for California to get behind abortion rights support.

The timeline for change

Wikipedia confirms that California joined a small number of states including New York, Hawaii, and Alaska in making abortion legal from 1967 through 1970. Women were not required to provide a reason to request the procedure. The state of California removed the medical approval requirement in 1967, becoming one of the most progressive abortion rights states in the Union. In 1971, requirements for women getting abortions stipulated that they must be California residents for between 30 to 90 days. In 2002, California passed a state that further protected women’s rights by making it illegal for the state to interfere with a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion before the fetus became viable, or when her health or life was at stake by continuing the pregnancy. It was one of ten states that required informed consent for abortions. In October of 2015, the Reproductive FACT Act required licensed healthcare facilities providing care services for pregnant women to post notices informing the public of programs for free or low-cost family planning services immediately. It includes contraception, prenatal care, and abortions for those who are eligible. Clinics found non-compliance with the law with civil fines. It also mandated unlicensed clinics offering pregnancy services to post a public notice of their non-licensure.

More reforms in 2017

California joined New Hampshire, Vermont, Oregon, and Montana in legalizing non-physician health professionals to perform first-trimester medical abortions and aspiration abortions. it is legal for these health professionals to prescribe drugs for medical procedures. A restrictive law was passed in 2019 to prohibit abortions after the fetus becomes viable. The law was based on the US Supreme court ruling in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v Casey decision regarding the standard that determines fetus viability. It was set between weeks 24 to 26, requiring medical determination by a physician. Senate Bill 24 is an act passed in California by the State Senate that requires public state universities to offer the abortion pill Mifepristone to their female students at no charge. The law takes effect on January 1, 2023, with funding through grants by private parties and insurance to each California and California State University for training and equipment. Clinics at Universities in California must set aside an extra $200k for a student hotline providing women seeking advice with more information.

Concern over US Supreme Court decision on Roe v Wade

If you live in the state of California and have concerns about the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v Wade, there is good news. Although many national news stations report that numerous states are awaiting the decision to enact trigger laws to criminalize abortions, California is not one of them. Turn to 23 reports that regardless of the US Supreme Court’s decision, California laws will not change. Nor will it make abortions illegal in the state. California’s legislators placed protective laws on the books that protect abortion rights and will maintain the legality of the procedures. California joins in the effort with 15 other states in a commitment to protect the abortion rights of women without interference from the state. An overturn of Roe v Wade will not affect the government-sponsored programs to provide low-cost or free abortion services to women in low-income households.

What is the likely impact of an overturn of Roe?

Reversing the Roe v Wade decision could impact Californians in other ways. Women will come from states that criminalize abortion and may travel to California to seek abortion services. Statisticians estimate that over 1.4 million women could travel to the state to seek help. Bans on abortions in other states could result in an overloading of the system in California. So far, Governor Newsom is staying the course to ensure that the rights of women are protected in the State of California and that they will not go backward in the progress made to provide for the civil protection of the rights of its citizens including pregnant women.

Final thoughts

California is among the most progressive states in the Union when it comes to supporting the rights of women to choose whether to end a pregnancy or to have a child. Regardless of the US Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v Wade, Californian women are protected under state law. The governor has vowed not to go backward in the progress that the state has made in loosening the restrictions on reproductive choices. California’s abortion laws contrast sharply with many other states that have prohibited abortion and criminalized the act. California’s government has established programs that pay all or most of the costs associated with abortions for low-income women. It’s a state that realizes it’s saving the lives and preserving the health of Californian women who would otherwise turn to black-market abortion clinics for services that often result in irreparable damage and death. Instead, its women have access to safe and medically competent abortion services by qualified professionals in clean and sterile environments with follow-up care available.

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