California Bill Would Protect Doctors who Mail Abortion Pills

March 17, 2023

A bill unveiled Friday in California’s state legislature would protect doctors who mail abortion pills to people in other states.

The bill’s language disallows the extradition of doctors who are facing charges in another state for providing abortion medication. It would also shield the doctors from having to pay other states’ fines, and it would let California doctors sue anyone who tries to prevent them from providing abortion services.

The bill’s author, State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D), said her intent is to make sure California residents who are traveling in other states or living there temporarily—like college students—can still have access to medication that’s legal inside their home state.

The law, though, is limited in scope to California. Any doctor who traveled outside the state to provide abortion services elsewhere would not be protected, nor would patients from other states who receive abortion services, including abortion pills, from California doctors.

Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Vermont have proposed or passed similar laws, according to Skinner’s office. Connecticut’s includes blocking criminal summonses from other states related to reproductive health care services that are legal in Connecticut while also blocking extradition—unless the person fled from a state requesting them.

The new California bill comes as U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas is mulling banning the abortion pill mifepristone nationwide—even in states where abortion remains legal.

On Wednesday Kacsmaryk heard arguments in a lawsuit  from anti-abortion groups against the FDA last November, claiming the agency used an improper process to approve mifepristone in the year 2000 and did not adequately consider its safety for minors. Kacsmaryk is considering whether to temporarily halt mifepristone across the country while the lawsuit proceeds.

That hearing comes amid another lawsuit: attorneys representing 12 Democratic-led states filed suit in February against the FDA over restrictions imposed on distributing the abortion pill mifepristone. And that action came as Texas’ Attorney General was among 20 from Republican-led states who warned executives at CVS and Walgreens against using the mail to dispense abortion pills in their states. 

The back-and-forth over states’ authority over access to abortion stems from the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization on June 24, which overturned Roe v Wade and the Constitutional right to abortion.

California already has laws that prevent courts from enforcing out-of-state judgments on abortion providers and volunteers. Skinner’s bill, meanwhile, goes beyond abortions to also protect California doctors for mailing contraceptives and transgender-related medications.

In fact, Skinner’s bill is one of 17 pieces of legislation that state Democrats have introduced in California this year to protect abortion rights, access to contraceptives and patients’ privacy.

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