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LGBTQ Agenda: CA lawmakers seek to enhance abortion access in state

Assistant Editor

California Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland), left, and state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) have introduced bills regarding privacy protections and reproductive access, while Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill by state Senator Lena Gonzalez that would eliminate out-of-pocket costs for abortions for patients with private insurance. Photos: Courtesy the lawmakers
California Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland), left, and state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) have introduced bills regarding privacy protections and reproductive access, while Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill by state Senator Lena Gonzalez that would eliminate out-of-pocket costs for abortions for patients with private insurance. Photos: Courtesy the lawmakers  

As reproductive rights are increasingly under attack around the United States and are expected to possibly see substantial changes later this year when the Supreme Court issues a decision in a Mississippi case, California lawmakers are moving forward with several bills to expand or otherwise increase access to reproductive services.

The high court heard oral arguments in the Mississippi case last December and a decision is expected by June. The Mississippi law would ban most abortions after 15 weeks, two months earlier than permitted under Roe v. Wade and later decisions. Many working in LGBTQ rights are reminding the public that reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights go hand in hand.

California, which has fallen squarely on the side of reproductive freedom — to say nothing of LGBTQ rights — is preparing, among many other actions, to safeguard the rights of people from out-of-state who might come here seeking abortions from states where they might otherwise face prosecution.

On March 22, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 245, authored by Senator Lena A. Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), eliminating out-of-pocket costs for abortions for patients with private insurance. Hard on its heels, 13 bills are now working their way through the Legislature addressing everything from allowing qualified nurse practitioners to perform abortions and providing greater access to abortion services in underserved areas of the state to enhancing privacy protections for medical records related to abortion care under California's Reproductive Privacy Act against disclosures to law enforcement and out-of-state third parties seeking to enforce hostile abortion bans in other states. Many are in various committees; others are headed for votes by legislators.

State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), a lesbian, praised Newsom's action signing Gonzalez's Abortion Accessibility Act.

"As someone who grew up without health coverage, I know how devastating unexpected medical bills can be," Atkins stated. "Even if you have insurance, copays and deductibles can be a massive setback for families struggling to get by each month. No one should have to make important medical decisions based on a bottom line, especially not time-sensitive, life-altering decisions like having an abortion.

"By eliminating cost-sharing on all abortion services, the Abortion Accessibility Act will help ensure Californians have the freedom to choose what is right for them and their families, regardless of how much money they have. I commend Senator Lena Gonzalez for this legislation, and her tireless dedication to making abortion care in California more accessible and affordable for everyone," she added.

State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) has introduced Senate Bill 1142, which is designed to expand and strengthen access to reproductive care, not only for Californians, but for those who seek services in the Golden State. Her bill is joint-authored by state Senator Anna Caballero (D-Salinas).

In a news release, Skinner referenced the restrictive abortion law in Texas that the U.S. Supreme Court has let stand for now. That law bans most abortions after six weeks.

"Further, if the high court this year upholds a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks, more than 36 million women and other people who may become pregnant across the nation will lose access to abortion care because of draconian laws already on the books in more than two-dozen states," Skinner stated. "The current status of restrictive laws in so many states makes it highly likely that people from those states would come to California to seek abortion services, and in even higher numbers if Roe is overturned."

Some of the other bills include AB 2091 by Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland). It enhances privacy protections for medical records related to abortion care under California's Reproductive Privacy Act against disclosures to law enforcement and out-of-state third parties seeking to enforce hostile abortion bans in other states.

AB 1666 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) protects patients and providers in California from civil liability judgments for providing reproductive health care to patients when the claims are based on laws in other states that are hostile to abortion rights and are contrary to the public policy of California.

All are supported by the California Future of Abortion Council, which includes leaders from agencies such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro Choice California.

Julie Gonen, national policy director for San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, has written a number of opinion pieces and blog posts stressing the connections between reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights.

"This is all about bringing the awesome power of the state to prevent people from living as their authentic selves and enjoying bodily autonomy," said Gonen, a lesbian, in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

In other words, if the state can tell a person they have to carry a pregnancy to full-term then, by extension, the state can also determine what LGBTQ people may and may not do with their own bodies. While the LGBTQ community has seen tremendous moves forward, the ongoing attacks on a person's right to choose should stand as a warning, she said.

Many observers see the Supreme Court undercutting Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood. Roe (1973) and Casey (1992) are long-standing decisions that have upheld the right of people to have an abortion. During the oral arguments last year on the Mississippi law, the justices mentioned prominent LGBTQ decisions as Lawrence v. Texas (which struck down bans on consensual sex between same-sex partners) and Obergefell v. Hodges (which struck down bans on marriage between same-sex partners).

"There's a commonality in the effort to force people to carry pregnancies against their will, and the right to marry the people they love," observed Gonen.

There is a cynicism in these efforts, or what Gonen called, "The breathtaking hypocrisy of Republicans and the complete disconnect between the ideals they pretend to follow and the policies they introduce."

In an editorial piece last year for Los Angeles Blade, Gonen wrote, "And the painful irony is that these laws are pushed by those who claim to be ideologically committed to 'freedom.' But the freedom they guard so jealously for themselves has an enormous asterisk attached — it does not apply to anyone experiencing an unwanted pregnancy."

And much of that is "often driven by religious viewpoints that others don't share," she told the B.A.R.

That is why this package of laws working its way through the California Legislature are important, she said. While it doesn't appear as if abortion is under threat in California, the efforts to make it more accessible are a vital counterpoint to the strengthening attacks on reproductive rights in much of the rest of the United States.

And those efforts are never just geared at reproductive rights. They go hand in hand with right-wing efforts to control so many fundamental aspects of all people's lives.

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact Eric Burkett at e.burkett@ebar.com


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