California bill to protect doctors who send abortion pills
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Doctors in California who mail abortion pills to people from other states would be protected from prosecution under a new bill introduced Friday in the state Legislature.
The bill prevents California from extraditing doctors who face charges in another state for providing abortion drugs. It will also protect doctors from having to pay fines. And it would allow California doctors to sue those who try to stop them from performing abortions.
The bill would only protect California-based doctors. If a doctor left California to perform an abortion on someone in another state, that doctor would not be protected. Nor would it protect patients in other states who receive the drug.
State Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat who authored the bill, said her intent is to make sure Californians who travel to other states or live there temporarily — like college students — can still have access to drugs that are legal in their home state. But she acknowledged that the bill would also apply to California doctors who treat patients who live in other states.
“This is essential health care,” Skinner said. “Our health care practitioners should be protected from treating their patients regardless of where their patients are geographically located.”
Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Vermont have proposed or passed similar laws, according to Skinner’s office. Connecticut’s law, among other things, blocks criminal subpoenas from other states related to reproductive health services that are legal in Connecticut, and blocks extradition — unless the person has fled the requesting state.
“Obviously, when a provider takes someone to telemedicine services, even if they ask where they are, they have to take it on faith,” said Connecticut state Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a Democrat and co-chair of the General Assembly’s Reproductive Rights Caucus. “We don’t want to make providers our police for our patients. And we don’t want to force them to do an investigation every time they do telehealth.”
Other states have tried to block the distribution of the abortion pill known as mifepristone. Attorneys general in 20 states, mostly with Republican governors, have warned some of the nation’s largest drug companies that they could face legal consequences if they distribute the pills in their states.
Most abortions are illegal in Idaho, including medical abortions. Blaine Canzati, president of the Idaho Family Policy Center — a group that opposes abortion rights — said California has a responsibility to extradite doctors who violate Idaho’s laws.
“The audacity of this proposal is staggering,” Canzati said of Skinner’s bill. “It puts the traditional relationship between the states on display and will turn our federal system upside down.”
Skinner’s bill goes beyond abortion. It would also protect doctors from sending transgender-related contraceptives and medications.
California already my laws which prevent courts from enforcing out-of-state judgments against abortion providers and volunteers. This law was intended to protect doctors who perform abortions on people traveling to California from other states. Abortion opponents say such laws are illegal because they violate a clause in the U.S. Constitution that states states must “have full faith and credit” in the laws of other states.
Federal courts have recognized exceptions to this clause, including laws of one state that violate the “public policy” of another state. The Skinner Act states that it is California public policy that doctors should not charge for providing abortion medications.
“We’re very cautious,” Skinner said.
Abortion pills have been legal in the US for more than two decades and can be used up to the 10th week of pregnancy. It is now the most common method of abortion in the United States. A federal judge in Texas is deciding whether to revoke or suspend the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug, a decision that will apply to all states, not just those that have banned abortions.
Skinner’s bill is one of the 17 legislative acts Democrats introduced legislation in California this year to protect abortion rights, including proposals to improve access to contraceptives and protect patient privacy.