The downtown Santa Cruz offices of Planned Parenthood
The downtown Santa Cruz offices of Planned Parenthood.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Health & Wellness

As California becomes an abortion sanctuary, Planned Parenthood readies itself for an influx of patients

Local clinics are beginning to plan to build out the capacity to serve women who can’t be served elsewhere as states including Texas pass new restrictions on abortion.

California is now an abortion sanctuary, that status signed into law Tuesday as Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Abortion Accessibility Act.

The act is both practical and symbolic. Practically, it eliminates out-of-pocket costs and prohibits health plans and insurers from imposing a copay, deductible or other cost requirements for abortion and abortion-related services. Symbolically, California’s move stands against the many states that are moving to greatly restrict abortion access.

The data remains so far piecemeal on how many women might already be making their way to California as their home states enact the new laws. In our region, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte — which serves patients with four Central Coast locations, as well 31 other locations in California and northern Nevada — reports that 67 women from out of state and 22 from Texas have used its services since Sept. 1, 2021, the date the Texas Heartbeat Act went into effect. Its four clinics in the Monterey Bay area: Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Salinas and Seaside.

Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, the largest Planned Parenthood affiliate in the United States, expects an influx — and is planning on how best to meet it.

It aims to:

  • expand the number and size of health centers;
  • invest in training more providers;
  • increase laboratory capacity.

“We are being as proactive as possible, but this is really just the beginning of how we can expand our services, in a very new landscape,” said Dianna Zamora Marroquin, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, Silicon Valley and Coastal regions. “As we begin to see the impact that SB 8 [the Texas Heartbeat Act] has, and if Roe v. Wade is overturned, we will continue to adjust and evolve to meet those needs. The commitment is fully there, and we are being proactive as much as we can — but until we start seeing what those numbers are, we can then be more intentional with our resources … this is an evolution.”

Mar Monte serves 220,000 adults and children every year, with the four Monterey Bay area clinics seeing 44,500 individuals in 2021. Similar to the Planned Parenthood network as a whole, about 3% of its services involve abortion, it reports.

The flow from red states to states that offer fewer restrictions has already begun.

Already, states close to Texas — whose restrictions have remained in place through appeals to both the U.S. and Texas supreme courts — have reported major case load increases:

  • Oklahoma: 2,500% increase in patients from Texas compared to the previous year.
  • New Mexico: 100% increase in patients from Texas.
  • Colorado: 1,000% increase in abortion patients from Texas.
  • Louisiana: 347% increase in abortion patients from Texas.

Further, should Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized abortion nationwide, be overturned, the Guttmacher Institute — which has long tracked abortion rights — estimates that 26 states will see enactment of anti-abortion legislation. Currently, Texas and Idaho — which saw a bill signed into law this week that also puts a six-week limit on legal abortion — are the only states that have had an anti-abortion acts go into effect. Numerous other state legislatures, including in Florida, West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona, have taken up similar legislation.

The Supreme Court is expected to deliver a decision on a Mississippi abortion ban this summer, with most analysts expecting the court to significantly narrow Roe’s mandate.

Santa Cruz’s Planned Parenthood clinic opened in 1973, right after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade. The founders of that clinic find today’s new restrictions hard to fathom.

Cynthia Mathews, who co-founded the local chapter, said: “It’s exceedingly oppressive, and it’s inequity at its worst. It’s a horrible move backwards, and it’s happening before our eyes.”

Leslie Conner, CEO of Santa Cruz Community Health, believes California is well positioned to rise to the occasion.

“We’re in a fortunate position — a lot of what’s ahead of us is local or state work to work as a potential abortion sanctuary,” she said. “There are some recommendations and things we can do in California to make California an easy place for reproductive access and abortion access, both for Californians and then for others around the country.”

Expect to hear the “sanctuary” rallying cry increasingly in the next several months.

As California’s first partner, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, said when Gov. Newsom signed the Abortion Accessibility Act: “We value women and recognize all they shoulder in their dual roles as caregivers and breadwinners. California will continue to lead by example and ensure all women and pregnant people have autonomy over their bodies and the ability to control their own destinies.”