Local politicians are grappling with the possibility of a reversal on federal abortion rights in light of a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on the future of Roe v. Wade published Monday night by Politico.
Written by Justice Samuel Alito in February, the opinion advocates for the overturn of the landmark abortion ruling that legalized abortion across the U.S. The Court has since verified the authenticity of the leaked document, adding that "it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case."
Statewide and across the Bay Area, politicians and local leaders, many of whom expressed shock and a renewed commitment to abortion rights, are gearing up to enact more stringent local protections and seek additional resources to support an anticipated influx of women seeking safe abortions in California.
Gov. Gavin Newsom released a statement saying, "This draft opinion is an appalling attack on the rights of women across this country and if it stands, it will destroy lives and put countless women in danger."
A constitutional amendment, introduced Monday night by Newsom and Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would "enshrine the right to choose in our state constitution so that there is no doubt as to the right to abortion in this state," according to an official statement.
A small but dedicated group of mostly women and a few supportive men gathered outside Palo Alto City Hall on Tuesday evening to voice their opposition to the leaked draft opinion.
"Against Abortion? Don't have one!" read one of the homemade signs. The group cheered when drivers honked their support.
"I'm so angry," said Mary Ittelson, who lives nearby. "This decision rolls back everything we thought we had won decades ago."
Stephanie Maples, an art teacher at a local elementary school, wore her sign, vividly depicting the slogan "My body, my choice."
The group had assembled in response to an Instagram post by comedian Amy Schumer urging people to "Channel Your Rage into Action" at local courthouses, city halls and town squares.
In an interview with the Pulse, state Sen. Josh Becker, who represents California's 13th Senate District, including most of San Mateo County, called it "shocking and appalling that they're going to try to take away women's freedom."
According to the Politico article, five of the nine justices favor the revocation of federal abortion rights, leaving regulation to the individual states. Becker emphasized the gravity of the situation, particularly for women living in less progressive states. Citing the possibility of a huge influx of women seeking legal abortion services in California, he said much has to be done at the state level to prepare. According to an October 2021 report from the Guttmacher Institute, a total abortion ban would increase the number of women of reproductive age whose nearest provider is in California from 46,000 to 1.4 million — a nearly 3,000% increase.
In addition to a package of 11 bills announced by the California Legislative Women's Caucus in early April, Becker said he's hopeful that the constitutional amendment, which he's co-authoring with Atkins, will receive the two-thirds majority needed to make it onto the November ballot. He's also the co-author of the bill, AB 1918, which would increase the workforce for reproductive health services.
"We expect that, if this happens, we're going to have tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of women coming to California for a safe legal abortion, and we don't have the workforce for that right now," he said.
For leaders at Planned Parenthood, the possibility of a Roe v. Wade reversal is significant in what it represents both symbolically and for the future of the organization.
In a statement, Jodi Hicks, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, called the draft ruling "the nightmare scenario we in the reproductive health, rights, and justice space have been sounding the alarm about."
Using descriptions like "very dehumanizing" and a "complete disregard for the rights of women," Andrew Adams, Chief of Staff and Head of Strategic Communications at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, said that the draft opinion marks a complete and historic reversal on the part of the court.
"For a long time the Supreme Court has been really focused on protecting and expanding the rights of citizens of the United States," Adams said. "The draft opinion, if it becomes the decision, does exactly the opposite. It robs people of rights that they've held for over 50 years."
Describing today as a "somber day," Redwood City Mayor Giselle told the Pulse, "I'm feeling a way that women haven't felt for a generation. That level of uncertainty is very real." She added that she was also "feeling more emboldened to stand up and speak up for the rights of women and pregnant people who need this care and deserve this care. I'm prepared to defend their rights."
Other politicians and women's rights advocates took to Twitter to voice their concerns and support for continued access to reproductive health care.
"My abortion saved my life. It allowed me to have another child, pursue a life of public service & realize my personal and professional dreams," wrote Congresswoman Jackie Speier who represents California's 14th congressional district. "Most importantly it was my decision. That shouldn't be a privilege."
Assembly member Marc Berman tweeted, "I stand with all of those who are fighting…"
"California has long defended a woman's fundamental right to choose to bear a child or choose to obtain an abortion, and has strongly supported the institutions that provided safe abortions for women," Berman said in a statement posted to Twitter. "No federal action or Supreme Court decision will shake our state's defense of the right to access legal and safe abortion services."
San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa, who's vying for Speier's seat in Congress, also condemned the leaked opinion.
"For women across America who want to keep ownership over their health, this decision should not stand," he tweeted on Monday. "I will fight to protect and restore a woman's right to choose - always and take on the right-wing Republicans in Congress who oppose a woman's right to choose!"
State Assembly member Kevin Mullin tweeted: "I will always support a woman's right to choose. In Congress, I will vote to codify Roe v. Wade and ensure that women's reproductive rights are protected. We must do everything we can starting right now to ensure every member of Congress votes to make Roe the law of the land."
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, CA-18, who is running for reelection, also released a statement, describing the opinion as a historic attempt to "eviscerate a constitutional right by overturning Roe v. Wade."
With the possibility that 26 U.S. states could move to ban abortion, eliminating abortion access for some 36 million women, Eshoo reiterated her support for the Women's Health Protection Act.
She wrote: "The need for this legislation has never been more urgent, and the Senate must act immediately to preserve women's rights over their own bodies. Reproductive choice is personal, private, and serious. We should trust women to make the best decisions."
Local governments are already taking action to prepare for the possible fallout should the high court render this decision.
In Santa Clara County, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday morning to commit $3 million to fund Planned Parenthood Mar Monte "for the expansion of medical care and facilities for women in our region and out-of-state women coming here for abortions."
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, San Jose's Mar Monte location — the largest in the state of California — expects an additional 200-500 out-of-state women a week seeking abortions, according to a county news release.
Planned Parenthood has been actively working to build more facilities and increase the number of patients they can accommodate each week in anticipation of a significant increase in out-of-state patients, Adams said.
Anticipating that California may become an "abortion sanctuary state," Hale agreed that local governments are going to need additional resources and funding to accommodate the greater needs.
"One potential issue is the access," she said, describing a possible influx of women seeking legal abortion services. She said that "the need for safety and protections become stronger" as well. "Because if you think about it, once the federal government and states make abortion illegal, well, all those protesters can head to California, right?"
To that end, just last week, the Redwood City City Council voted to send a letter to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors requesting a protective buffer zone around a local Planned Parenthood. The recommendation, introduced by Hale and approved unanimously by the council members, would establish a perimeter around the entrance to the clinic that protesters are not allowed to enter.
As to the benefits of creating a buffer zone, Hale said that it would shelter people who were afraid of facing intimidation at the door.
"It's about having every tool in our toolbox to defend access to this essential right," she said. Hale added that the North Fair Oaks Community Council, under the leadership of President Brooks Esser, is considering writing a similar recommendation supporting the Planned Parenthood buffer zone on behalf of the council.
Though the city's letter has yet to be submitted, San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum said he would likely support the implementation of a buffer zone. He said he was also in favor of a move, like that taken by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, to direct additional funding to local reproductive health care facilities.
Asked about the role of local government on this issue he said he'd like to see the Board take "some concrete steps, not just symbolic."
"I do think we have a responsibility," Slocum said. "And that goes beyond just adopting a resolution condemning the court for its decision."
Pointing to recently passed bills, such as Florida's parental consent law, and Texas's Senate Bill 8 or "Heartbeat Act," which bans abortions after detection of the fetal heartbeat, Adams said that reproductive rights "have been under attack for a long time."
The impact of these state bills has already rippled into states like California, Adams said.
From July 1, 2021, to April 15, 2022, California's Planned Parenthood facilities served more than double the number of out-of-state patients compared to the same time period from the previous year, which Adams attributed to growing restrictions in states like Texas.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, control of abortion policies and laws will return to the states. Thirteen "trigger law" states already have anti-abortion laws that would go into effect immediately, including: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
California is an abortion-rights state.
Timeline: How California got here on abortion