CA abortion providers navigate thorny legal issues, 1 year after Dobbs

By Robin Estrin

An activist holds a sign that says, “Keep abortion safe and legal.” Photo by Shutterstock.

In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the federal right to abortion, states like Texas, Oklahoma, and Idaho have passed laws criminalizing or otherwise charging those who assist in the abortion process – including health care providers.

California has responded by passing laws meant to shield health care providers from legal liability, but the landscape has become increasingly thorny as patients travel to California for reproductive health care from out of state. 

“Something being illegal in Texas doesn't mean that the state of California has to criminalize it,” says Cathren Cohen, staff attorney with the UCLA Williams Institute and the Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy. “But typically what we have between the states is a complicated constitutional concept called Full Faith and Credit, where states typically help each other execute, for example, criminal warrants.”

A year after Roe, Cohen says it’s not clear whether or not a federal court can force a state like California to comply with prosecutions from another state. “There is very little case law on this,” she says, “so it's a really complicated legal issue.” 

The complexity points to an irony in the goals of the country’s anti-abortion champions, Cohen says.

“There was a lot of talk around the Dobbs decision, that this would be just getting the courts out of the issue of abortion, and now we can just leave it back to the states. But because there are all of these cross state issues, and many other issues, the courts are just going to continue to have to consider cases involving abortion for many years.”

Last legislative session, California passed more than a dozen laws protecting and expanding abortion access in the state. Legislators are also moving forward with the new Senate Bill 345, which would protect providers who prescribe or ship abortion pills out of state from prosecution and extradition.

“This new bill is…trying to protect people who are treating people outside of California,” Cohen says. “That is really all California can really do, is legislate what happens within the borders of our state.”

But if a California provider travels to a state like Texas, where there’s an open case against them, Cohen says “they would be at legal risk.”

“It’s really disrupting just general medical care in the country,” she says, as well as, “sort of an understood idea of being a citizen of the United States that you can move throughout the states and be treated equally.”



  • Cathren Cohen - staff attorney with the UCLA Williams Institute and the Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy