California state Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, one of the most powerful women in California politics, is pushing for greater access to abortion services for all women — both inside and outside the state.
Atkins, a Democrat, has a lot of experience when it comes to the issue. She ran two women’s reproductive health clinics before seeking public office. She spoke with Insight’s Vicki Gonzalez on the eve of the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the U.S. The landmark case is now facing new challenges, but Atkins says she’ll fight to keep those rights in place.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On the impacts of abortion restrictions
When you put barriers in place for individuals to be able to access any kind of health care, there will be impacts. We are already seeing more women come to California for abortion. Now what's sad about that is these are the women who can find the resources to get here, have the support to do it. What about women who don't have that support? And that's the thing that's so insidious about people that make decisions. I see abortion access and rights, much like the ability to have a child and have the support to get pregnant, as a civil rights issue for women.
On the issues caused by lack of access to reproductive health care
We already know we have an access issue for women in this country, despite the Affordable Care Act, despite all that California does. To offer Medi-Cal, emergency services Medi-Cal, [where in] one day you can be eligible [for coverage]. And you know, when you're pregnant, time is of the essence. Time is of the essence in terms of whether that procedure is going to be more costly or more physically challenging for you if you're less than 12 weeks or over 12 weeks.
This [restrictive abortion law] is an attack on women. Let's be clear, people think we are out of bounds or we're dramatic women or emotional or hysterical. No. Women will die. Women will die.
On cases opening the door to overturn Roe v. Wade
In the 49 years that Roe v. Wade has been in the Constitution as a right to privacy for women, there have been attacks, and when one track doesn't work for those who oppose abortion across the board, regardless of anything, they use another track and then another. I've been involved in this for more than 30 years. I remember Operation Rescue and blockading clinics. They got more strategic in terms of going after the policy that would license clinics. Can you do an abortion in an outpatient setting? Do you have to be in a hospital? All of those kinds of regulations. We fought parental notification and consent waiting periods, ultrasounds, forcing women to get vaginal ultrasounds, which was a proposal out of my home state of Virginia, where I grew up. All of those things have been put forward and really, we always knew abortion options were under attack. But now, with the Supreme Court and the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, really never has there been more of a threat to reproductive rights for individuals in this country.
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