The Four States Planning to Become ‘Abortion Sanctuaries’ as Others Pass Bans

Democratic strongholds are positioning themselves as safe havens for women seeking abortions who live in states with new restrictions on the procedures. 

State efforts to safeguard access to abortion for residents and visitors are preemptive responses to a possible Supreme Court decision to unravel the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established the legal right to an abortion before the age of viability.

The court is slated to rule in June on the most consequential abortion rights case in decades, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health . The case pertains to a 2018 Mississippi law effectively banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which flouted the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to allow abortions up to the point of viability, between 22 to 24 weeks. The majority-conservative court has signaled its willingness to consider overturning Roe, a prospect that has sent blue states scrambling to preserve the right to abortions within their borders.

Red states, meanwhile, have been pursuing tighter abortion restrictions. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law one of the nation’s most stringent abortion restrictions. The law, implemented last September, bans abortions once a heartbeat is detected, often before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Despite a wave of legal challenges, the law has remained in effect. It has evaded injunction by virtue of its unique enforcement mechanism, which gives individuals, not the state, the power to sue anyone believed to be aiding and abetting an abortion regardless of whether they have a personal stake in the procedure performed. This means that abortion providers cannot sue the state over the constitutionality of the law. 

The following is a smattering of states that are strengthening access to abortion for women living within their borders as well as for those who live in states such as Texas, where obtaining the procedure could be extremely burdensome or impossible. 

Colorado: Democratic-run Colorado has positioned itself to become a refuge for abortion seekers from neighboring states that have trigger laws in place — that is, laws that will immediately ban abortions in the first and second trimesters if Roe is tossed out. Neighbor states Wyoming and Utah have such laws on the books. Colorado also has more abortion providers than neighboring states and has seen an increase already in people coming from other states to obtain an abortion. Of nearly 10,300 abortions performed in Colorado in 2020, 13% of them were on women from other states. While the data for 2021 is not yet available, a practice manager at a Denver clinic, Margie Andersohn, told Kaiser Health News, “Women are flooding in from Texas.”

Colorado state lawmakers are on the path to establishing “a fundamental right to continue the pregnancy and give birth or to have an abortion” with the recent passage of the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign. The bill, while it does not pertain directly to patients coming from other states, says in its text that it was intended to position Colorado as an oasis in an abortion desert. Democrats will also pose the question of enshrining the right to abortion in the state’s constitution to voters in 2024.

California: California Gov. Gavin Newsom has billed the state as a “sanctuary” for people seeking abortions from other states. Newsom recently signed a law that eliminated the patient’s cost-sharing responsibility, such as a co-pay when getting an abortion, which has to be covered by health insurance in California. The state also covers the cost of the procedure for extremely poor people through the government healthcare program Medicaid.

“As states across the country attempt to move us backwards by restricting fundamental reproductive rights, California continues to protect and advance reproductive freedom for all,” Newsom said last week.

The California Legislative Women’s Caucus has proposed a suite of bills aimed at propping up access to abortion for women coming from out of state. One bill would enhance privacy protections for abortion providers who perform the procedure on a patient from a state with a ban in place, a measure that aims to shield providers in California from legal conflict with abortion opponents in another state. Another bill would create a centralized webpage where women across the U.S. can access information on how to get an abortion in California. The caucus also proposed a bill to establish a state-run fund that people could donate to in order to assist women who were denied abortions in other states by paying the costs of travel, housing, meals, child care, and other services while seeking the procedure in California.

Oregon: The Legislature set aside $15 million of the state’s budget to establishthe Oregon Reproductive Equity Fund to “provide meaningful and immediate support to patients, health providers and community advocates to prepare for Idaho’s imminent passage of a six-week abortion ban and an anticipated Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade.” The funding will help offset the costs of obtaining abortion services for women from neighboring states. Idaho Gov. Brad Little recently signed into law a ban that resembles one implemented in Texas last year that has yet to be challenged successfully in court. The Idaho law bans the procedure once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks into gestation, and establishes a reward of at least $20,000 plus legal fees for any relative of “a preborn child” who sues providers who perform an abortion.

“With this investment, we are making a strong commitment to protect people in our state from draconian laws and court rulings at the federal level, and we can mitigate harm caused by abortion bans passed by anti-abortion politicians in neighboring states,” said Oregon House Speaker Dan Rayfield.

Illinois: The state is a Democratic stronghold where lawmakers have aimed to make a safe haven for abortion seekers from surrounding states. Abortion rights were fully ensconced in Illinois law with the 2019 passage of the Reproductive Health Act, which established a “fundamental right” to the procedure in the state. In December 2021, Gov. J.B. Pritzker repealed a law that required parents or guardians to be notified of a minor seeking an abortion, calling the move “essential” to protect the “most vulnerable pregnant minors who were punished by this law.”

Abortion providers in Illinois, already seeing an influx of patients fleeing other states’ abortion bans, are gearing up for a post-Roe U.S. in the event that the Supreme Court rules in favor of the 15-week Mississippi ban. Two southern Illinois clinics launched a logistical command center across the Mississippi River from neighboring St. Louis that will help women from out-of-state organize travel to the clinic, find child care, and secure lodging. The command center also connects patients with financial resources to bankroll the procedures.

Reporting by The Washington Examiner.