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How California created the nation’s easiest abortion access — and why it’s poised to go further

California lawmakers intend to buck the trend. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom aims to make the state a “sanctuary” for out-of-state abortion seekers.

CALIFORNIA, USA — This story was originally published by CalMatters.

By this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a decision on the most consequential challenge to Roe v. Wade since the landmark ruling in 1973 guaranteed the constitutional right to obtain an abortion. 

If, as legal experts expect, federal abortion protections are eliminated or severely weakened — Politico published a leaked first draft of a majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito gutting Roe —  a cascade of absolute bans will follow in more than a dozen states. Already, six more states are considering so-called “trigger bans” in the lead-up to this summer’s decision, while dozens of other state legislatures are considering 15-week bans, abortion pill bans and bans modeled after Texas’ controversial law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps someone obtain an abortion after six weeks.

California lawmakers intend to buck the trend. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom aims to make the state a “sanctuary” for out-of-state abortion seekers — even proposing to use state funds to defray their travel costs. He’s already signed into law a measure eliminating out-of-pocket costs for Californians. The state Legislative Women’s Caucus has also introduced a 13-bill package to further cut barriers to access and protect patient and provider rights, and many of those are advancing through the Legislature.

But the state wasn’t always a bastion for reproductive choice. It took decades of black market abortions, a national rubella epidemic, an international drug scandal, several high-profile trials against physicians, and thousands of maternal deaths for California to decriminalize abortion. In fact, abortion remained illegal here until 1967, when state lawmakers passed the Therapeutic Abortion Act. It was signed into law by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan — surprisingly the same politician who later, as president, championed a constitutional “right-to-life” amendment.

In the ensuing years, California has garnered the distinction of being the state that goes furthest to allow easy access to abortion. So how did we get here?

WATCH RELATED: What’s next after Politico publishes leaked SCOTUS draft opinion in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade (May 3, 2022)