State lawmakers on Monday voted to stop courts in Texas and other states from penalizing abortion providers and volunteers in California, part of Democrats' plan to make the state a sanctuary for women seeking reproductive care should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.
Texas bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually after the first six weeks of pregnancy. The law is unusual because it does not allow state officials to enforce it. Instead, only private citizens can enforce the law by suing the people who provided or aided in the abortion.
California Democrats worry the Texas law — and those like it that have since been passed or proposed in other conservative states — could expose their abortion providers and volunteers to civil judgments from other states. Monday, Democrats in the state Assembly gave key approval to a bill that would ban enforcing those judgments in California courts.
“Taking this action now is crucial as we prepare for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade and unleash a flood of hostile bans in more than half the states,” said Molly Robson, legislative director for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.
Abortion foes say the bill is illegal because a clause in the U.S. Constitution requires each state to give “full faith and credit” to the laws of every other state. The clause has helped keep the peace between states, including in 2019 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Nevada had to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a man who was suing California for trying to collect past income taxes.
“California is part of the United States of America and is bound by U.S. Constitution and is not a nation or law unto itself,” said Dean Broyles, a lawyer and president of the National Center for Law & Policy, told lawmakers during a legislative hearing earlier this year. “If enacted, as a constitutional attorney I can assure you California will spend a lot of money defending this bill and will lose.”
Federal courts have recognized some exceptions to the “full faith and credit" clause, including for laws in one state that violate the “public policy” of another state. This is to avoid what the U.S. Supreme Court has said would be an “absurd” outcome of a state court not being able to enforce its own laws.
The bill that passed the California Assembly seeks to exploit that exception, declaring that suing someone in California for performing or aiding in an abortion is “contrary to the public policy of this state.”
“I hope that states that share our interests in protecting abortion and abortion providers will do everything they can to ensure that there is safe access to abortion in their state,” said Democratic Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, who authored the bill and is an attorney. “I think what we’re doing is absolutely constitutional and I think others should do the same if they feel likewise.”
The bill is one of 13 pieces of legislation Democrats in California have introduced this year to either protect abortion providers and volunteers or make abortions easier and cheaper to obtain.
Also on Monday, lawmakers in the state Assembly passed a bill to prevent the California Medical Board from suspending or revoking licenses for doctors who provide abortions. And earlier this year, Newsom signed a law making abortions cheaper by banning private insurance companies from charging things like co-pays or deductibles for the procedure.
Lawmakers are trying to act quickly with these bills because they believe the U.S. Supreme Court later this summer will likely overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that banned states from outlawing all abortions.
An early draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion indicated a majority of justices support overturning Roe v. Wade. The draft was obtained and published by Politico earlier this month. The court later confirmed the draft was authentic, but noted nothing had changed because the court had not yet officially issued its ruling.
The bills are just some of the hundreds of pieces of legislation that must pass the state Assembly by Friday's deadline if they are to have a chance at becoming law this year. The bills next move to the state Senate, which will vote on them before the legislature adjourns in August.