California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new law on Wednesday that aims to shield doctors from prosecution if they mail abortion pills to women in other states where the procedure is restricted.
Senate Bill 345 also bars the prosecution of doctors in California who offer “gender-affirming care” to out-of-state patients. Many Republican-led states have banned medications used to treat gender dysphoria, such as puberty blockers, mostly for minors.
The law will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. California already has a law that prevents the prosecution of doctors who provide these drugs to out-of-state patients who travel to California.
Under the law, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals who dispense these drugs to out-of-state patients can’t be criminally or civilly prosecuted by other states where such treatment is restricted while they are in California. However, the law will not protect them once they leave the state.
Moreover, the new law forbids authorities and government officials from cooperating with out-of-state investigations into doctors who mail abortion pills to patients in other states. It also bans bounty hunters or bail agents from apprehending doctors, pharmacists, and patients in California and transporting them to another state to stand trial for providing an abortion.
“With SB 345, California doctors, midwives, pharmacists, and others can continue to provide the essential reproductive and gender-affirming care their patients need, regardless of where their patient is located, confident that California is protecting our medical professionals from malicious prosecution,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat.
The law permits California doctors to dispense abortion pills or transgender-related medications to out-of-state patients after a telehealth or videoconferencing consultation. Historically, women had to visit a doctor in person to receive an abortion pill. This changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many Republican-led states have enacted restrictions on abortion, some banning the procedure at six weeks. However, Mr. Newsom has signed laws to allow late-term abortions and shield doctors from prosecution in the event of failed abortions in which a baby is born alive and not provided care. Critics have decried such laws as enabling infanticide.
California’s new law also allows doctors and patients to initiate legal action within the state against anyone “who interferes with their right to obtain, provide, or dispense health care that is legally protected in California.”
Senate Bill 345 also strengthens California’s “Safe Haven” laws, which shield those escaping prosecution or imprisonment in states that have criminalized abortion or certain transgender treatments, usually for minors.
The law also prevents California tech firms, such as Facebook, from complying with out-of-state subpoenas or requests for information. Mr. Newsom’s office said this is aimed at preventing situations like the recent Nebraska case.
In that case, Jessica Burgess, 42, of Norfolk, conspired on Facebook with her 17-year-old daughter in 2022 to abort the daughter’s unborn baby at 29 weeks, well into her third trimester. Ms. Burgess was last week sentenced to prison for giving her teenage daughter an illegal medication abortion and then burning and burying the baby’s remains.
The Food and Drug Administration has only approved abortion pills for use within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
California’s new law was supported by the Medical Board of California, the Board of Registered Nursing, and the Physician Assistant Board. It was authored by members of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus.
Similar laws have been enacted in New York and Massachusetts in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, returning power to the states to determine their abortion laws.
The California Catholic Conference objected to the law, asserting that the state is imposing its beliefs on states and citizens who oppose abortion.
In a letter to lawmakers earlier this year, the association argued that disregarding “the legitimate interest of other states to protect unborn children and public health is a dangerous precedent.”