California bill would protect doctors who ship abortion pills

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California doctors who ship abortion pills to people in other states would be protected from prosecution under a new bill scheduled to be introduced in the state legislature on Friday.

The law would not allow California to extradite doctors charged in another state for providing abortion drugs. It would also save doctors from having to pay fines. And it would allow California doctors to sue anyone who tries to stop them from performing abortions.

The law would only protect doctors who are in California. If a doctor left California to abort someone in another state, that doctor would not be protected. It also would not protect patients in other states receiving the drug.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat and author of the bill, said her intent is to ensure that California residents who travel to other states or live temporarily there — such as college students — continue to have access to legal medication in their home state. However, she acknowledged that the bill would also apply to California doctors who treat patients who live in other states.

“This is basic health care,” Skinner said. “Our doctors should be protected when treating their patients, regardless of where their patients are geographically.”

Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Vermont have proposed or passed similar legislation, according to Skinner’s office. Connecticut law blocks, among other things, criminal subpoenas from other states related to reproductive health services legal in Connecticut, and also blocks extradition — unless the person fled a state that requested it.

“Of course, if a provider is offering telehealth services to someone, even if they’re asking about their whereabouts, they have to believe,” said Connecticut state assemblyman Matt Blumenthal, a Democrat and co-chair of the General Assembly’s Reproductive Rights Caucus. “We don’t want to make providers their police for their patients. And we don’t want to force them to do an exam every time they do telemedicine.”

Other states have tried to block distribution of the abortion pill known as mifepristone. Attorneys general in 20 states, mostly with Republican governors, have warned some of the country’s largest pharmacy companies that they could face legal action if they distribute the pill in their states.

Most abortions are illegal in Idaho, including medical abortions. Blaine Conzatti, president of the Idaho Family Policy Center — a group opposed to abortion rights — said California has a responsibility to extradite doctors who violate Idaho laws.

“The arrogance of such a proposal is astounding,” Conzatti said of Skinner’s bill. “It showcases the traditional relationship between states and would turn our federal system on its head as a whole.”

Skinner’s bill goes beyond abortions. It would also protect doctors from shipping contraceptives and transgender drugs.

California already has laws preventing courts from enforcing out-of-state judgments on abortion providers and volunteers. This law aimed to protect doctors who perform abortions on people traveling to California from other states. Anti-abortion activists say such laws are illegal because they violate a clause in the US Constitution that says states must have “full faith and respect” the laws of other states.

Federal courts have recognized an exception to this clause, including laws in one state that are contrary to the “public order” of another state. Skinner’s law states that it is California public policy that physicians should not be charged for providing abortion drugs.

“We’re very careful,” Skinner said.

Abortion pills have been legal in the US for more than two decades and can be taken up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. It is now the most common abortion method in the US. A federal judge in Texas is weighing whether to revoke or suspend the drug’s approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a decision that would apply to all states and not just those that have banned abortions.

Skinner’s bill is one of 17 laws Democrats introduced in California this year to protect abortion rights, including proposals to improve access to contraceptives and protect patient privacy.

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