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Understanding Abortion Laws in California

In January 1973, the United States Supreme Court issued the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade regarding women’s reproductive rights. The decision protected a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion. Women could now obtain a safe abortion without fear of being arrested.

Abortion rights significantly changed in 2023 when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Since then, many states have enacted laws criminalizing abortions as misdemeanors or felonies. State prosecutors can potentially pursue criminal charges against women and medical providers.

Because abortion laws are changing across the nation, you may be confused about whether it is legal to get an abortion in California. This blog discusses abortion laws in California.

What Is an Abortion?

California defines abortion as a procedure that ends a pregnancy. Abortion has been legal in California since 1967. The state was the first in the country to legalize abortion through its Therapeutic Abortion Act.

Initially, the Act limited when a woman could obtain an abortion. A hospital committee had to determine that the woman would suffer severe mental or physical harm if the pregnancy continued. 

The California Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that a woman has a fundamental right to make decisions about her reproductive health. By the 1970s, the only restriction on abortions was that they needed to be performed by a doctor at a hospital. Today, there are very few limitations on where, how, and when a woman can seek an abortion in California.

What Are the Current Abortion Laws in California?

Under the Reproductive Privacy Act, a woman can seek a legal abortion up until the point when a doctor determines that the baby is viable. That means that the fetus would likely survive outside of the uterus without extraordinary medical measures. 

Viability generally occurs between the 22nd and 24th week of pregnancy. After the point of viability, a woman can only obtain a legal abortion if a doctor determines that continuing the pregnancy poses a risk to the health or life of the woman. 

California does not currently have residency requirements for getting an abortion. Therefore, anyone can travel to the state to obtain a legal abortion. 

However, the woman’s state of residence may have laws that impose criminal and/or civil penalties for traveling outside of the state for an abortion. Generally, California does not enforce arrest warrants from other states if a woman travels to California seeking an abortion.

A conservatorship could impact a woman’s right to seek an abortion. If your right to give consent for medical treatment is affected by the conservatorship, you may need to seek a court order to override a conservator’s denial of an abortion. 

A minor may obtain an abortion without a court order or parental permission. Minors do not need to have an adult with them when they go to an abortion appointment. Healthcare providers are not permitted to inform legal guardians or parents when a minor receives an abortion unless the minor consents to the notification.

A health insurance provider has a duty to maintain the minor’s privacy, even if the insured is the minor’s parents. Additionally, minors can obtain low-cost or free reproductive health care if they do not have insurance or do not wish to use their parent’s insurance coverage. 

Who Can Legally Perform an Abortion in California?

Abortions can now be legally performed by any medical professional with specialized training and hospital committee approval. 

Medical professionals who can perform abortions include:

  • Surgeons
  • Physicians
  • Physician assistants
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Nurse midwives 

A medical provider cannot be forced to perform abortions if they file the appropriate documents with their clinic, hospital, or medical facility. They must explain that they have a religious, ethical, or moral reason for refusing to participate in abortions. However, the rule does not apply in a medical emergency or pregnancy loss.

What Are the Penalties for Performing an Illegal Abortion in California?

While there are not many restrictions on abortions in this state, an abortion is considered illegal if the abortion is performed:

  • By an unauthorized individual 
  • After the fetus is viable
  • Without the mother’s consent

The medical professional performing the illegal abortion can face criminal charges. Penalties can include jail time and fines. Additionally, the licensing board could revoke or suspend your professional license. 

If you are accused of performing or obtaining an illegal abortion, you should seek legal advice from a San Jose criminal defense lawyer immediately.

Along with the right to a phone call, you also have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, the right to medical care, and the right to reasonable accommodations if you have a disability. If you believe that any of these rights have been violated, speak with an experienced San Jose criminal defense attorney to discuss your options.

For more information please contact our criminal defense law firm of Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law at the nearest location for a free consultation.

Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law – San Jose Office
1625 The Alameda, Suite 405, San Jose, CA 95126
(408) 217-8818

Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law – Redwood City Office
600 Allerton St Suite 201G, Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 299-0500

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