Newsom Abortion Billboard

Through billboards, ballot initiatives and a new state-run website, Gov. Gavin Newsom is digging a trench between himself and political opponents when it comes to abortion access.

This month, the former San Francisco mayor launched a new statewide website, Abortion.CA.gov, which offers basic information on how to access an abortion in California and links to external funds and childcare services for out-of-state abortion travel.

He’s advertising the website through billboards in Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas, South Carolina, South Dakota and Oklahoma — all states that have sought to restrict abortion access after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed a constitutional right to an abortion for nearly 50 years.

But a bigger question remains: Can his plea to potential voters help more people access abortions? Or will the politics of abortion eclipse a widening equity gap in reproductive care?

“He’s very focused on being part of the political conversation. Whether or not he is going to run for president, there is nothing worse than for a politician to be forgotten,” said political consultant Jim Ross. “Power comes from the ability to persuade, and you’re more persuasive if you have the ability to drive the narrative.”

Support for Prop 1

The majority of state voters are already on board with Proposition 1, a ballot measure that would amend the California Constitution to include the fundamental right to have an abortion and choose or refuse contraceptives. (Currently, the right to an abortion is protected under California’s privacy laws, but abortion itself is not explicitly included in the constitution.)

About 69% of California voters would likely vote “yes” and 25% would vote “no,” with 6% unsure, according to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Newsom has largely downplayed rumors around his presidential aspirations. But the stark contrast he’s defining compared to governors who have passed abortion restrictions, such as Greg Abbott of Texas, signal an appeal to a wider set of voters.

And abortion could easily be an issue that paves the way for Newsom to the national stage. Nearly 62% of Americans continue to say abortion should be legal in all or most cases even after the overturn of Roe, according to a recent national poll by Pew Research.

“All politicians do better with contrast. By doing these ads, he’s contrasting California versus these other states,” Ross said. “When you say a candidate is pro-choice or anti-abortion, it defines them in voters’ minds.”

Era of abortion bans and restrictions

Since Roe was overturned, most abortions are now banned in 13 states, including Idaho, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Other states such as Georgia ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, which is often sooner than many people know they are pregnant. 

Outcomes of abortion restrictions, which can be a life-saving procedure and can be necessary in certain miscarriages or other medical circumstances, are already well understood by researchers. Abortions continue, often in much more dangerous settings, and harms disproportionately fall on low-income women and women of color. 

Between 2005 and 2015, while Roe was still upheld, states passed about seven abortion restrictions. During that time, Black people in states that restricted abortion were most likely to experience a preterm birth than non-Black people, a 2021 study in BMC Health Services Research shows. Those with less than a college degree similarly were more likely to have a child with low birthweight compared with those with higher educational attainment in states restricting abortion access. 

“For all analyses, inequities worsened as state environments grew increasingly restrictive,” the study reads. 

Website can only do so much

Abortion providers like Dr. Tania Basu Serna see the governor’s latest efforts as a small step in a positive direction.

“Those of us who provide this care, we have been wanting a website like this for years. It’s difficult to navigate and figure out where to go to receive evidence-based care and not a crisis pregnancy center unknowingly,” she said, referring to anti-abortion pregnancy centers. “This website is a great start as far as just providing that information on where clinicians are located. It helps people in our state.”

But in terms of supporting pregnant people who lack resources to travel and live in states with abortion restrictions, billboards and lists of links to travel stipends can only do so much.

“We can’t expect everyone to call an abortion fund and make all those arrangements that are needed. The time it takes to coordinate all that is a huge feat,” said Basu Serna. “Many abortions occur due to medical circumstances and those now no longer legal in some states. That’s what concerns me the most as an OBGYN. But there is more conversation around it, which I welcome. We need more conversations, that reduces the stigma.”

An uptick of patients in S.F.

San Francisco has relatively robust access to abortion services compared with other parts of the state and country, but opposition is alive and well even in the local liberal bubble.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco, for example, recently donated $13,500 to California Together, a campaign led by anti-abortion groups who are opposing Prop 1.

There has already been an increase in patients Basu Serna sees traveling from out-of-state for abortions. She’s also noticed that many of them had resources that allowed them to travel for a short period for the procedure, such as the ability to take time off work, childcare, travel funds or a place to stay in the pricey Bay Area.

“We are seeing an uptick in patients coming from outside of the state, but generally they are patients who have resources. Of course we welcome anybody, but knowing this brings a little sense of sadness for us as clinicians,” she said. “We know those who really need this care will likely never be able to...this will never be a choice for them. It is not a reality in their lives to be able to buy a plane ticket, pay for gas, cross state lines in order to receive care.”

Basu Serna also pointed to neglected parts of California that lack abortion services. 

“Treating this as a public health emergency is vital. We are struggling to care for people just within our state. There are abortion deserts,” she said. “This will affect us for years to come.”

Originally published on sfexaminer.com, part of the TownNews Content Exchange.