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Governors announce ‘West Coast offence’ to protect abortion

California, Washington and Oregon said they will work together to defend patients and medical professionals providing reproductive health care.

Supreme Court
Supreme Court

The Democratic governors of California, Washington and Oregon on Friday vowed to protect reproductive rights and help women who travel to the West Coast seeking abortions following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade.

The three states are building a “West Coast offence” to protect patients’ access to reproductive care, California governor Gavin Newsom said in a video statement announcing the plans, with Oregon governor Kate Brown and Washington governor Jay Inslee.

The states issued a joint “multi-state commitment”, saying they will work together to defend patients and medical professionals providing reproductive health care.

They also pledged to “protect against judicial and local law enforcement co-operation with out-of-state investigations, inquiries and arrests” regarding abortions performed in their states.

The liberal West Coast states anticipate an influx of people seeking abortions, especially as neighbouring conservative states move to outlaw or greatly restrict the procedure.

“More than half the nation’s population now lacks safe access to a medical procedure that only a patient and their doctor can and should make for themselves,” Mr Inslee said in a statement.

“Washington state remains steadfast in our commitment to protecting the ability and right of every patient who comes to our state in need of abortion care.”

In California, Democrats who control state government have spent the past year preparing for a post-Roe world.

It started in September, when Mr Newsom declared California a “reproductive freedom state” and established a group of abortion rights’ activists to examine California’s abortion laws and figure out how to strengthen them.

The result was a package of 13 bills moving through the legislature this year. Mr Newsom will probably sign one of them into law on Friday, a measure aimed at shielding abortion providers and volunteers from civil judgments imposed by out-of-state courts.

Oregon has codified the right to an abortion. State law was updated in 2017 and allows for late-term abortion and requires private medical insurance and state Medicaid to cover the procedure.

A multimillion dollar fund established by state lawmakers this year covers costs for abortion providers and patients without insurance coverage or traveling from out of state.

The fund also seeks to expand abortion access in Oregon’s rural communities.

“No matter who you are or where you come from, Oregon doesn’t turn away anyone seeking health care,” Ms Brown said.

Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum echoed the governor’s comments. “Abortion is still legal here in Oregon,” she tweeted. “Our doors are open to every person who may need to walk through them.”

Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson also said he will work to ensure his state “welcomes any individual who comes here to access the fundamental right to reproductive justice”, adding that he is “already working to protect medical professionals who are prosecuted in other states for providing essential health care services that are legal and protected in Washington”.

Washington and Oregon border Idaho, which following Friday’s ruling will ban abortions except in cases of reported rape or incest, or to protect the mother’s life.

Abortion has been legal in Washington state since a 1970 statewide ballot referendum.

Another ballot measure approved by voters in 1991 affirmed a woman’s right to choose physician-performed abortion prior to foetal viability and further expanded and protected access to abortion in the state if Roe v Wade was overturned.

In California, abortion was outlawed in 1850, except when the life of the mother was in danger. The law changed in 1967 to include abortions in the case of rape, incest or if a woman’s mental health were in danger.

In 1969, the California Supreme Court declared the state’s original abortion law to be unconstitutional but left the 1967 law in place.

In 1972, one year before the Roe v Wade decision at the US Supreme Court, California voters added a “right to privacy” to the state constitution.

Since then, the state Supreme Court has interpreted that right to privacy as a right to access abortion.

Local governments in the states said they were also ready to help protect and provide abortion access.

Washington state’s most populous county will devote one million dollars (£815,000) in emergency funding to help women traveling to the Seattle area seeking abortions following the overturning of Roe v Wade.

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