New shield law protects California health practitioners who provide care to out-of-state patients
Two weeks ago, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 345, a comprehensive shield law authored by State Senator Nancy Skinner that grants legal protections for California health care professionals who provide or dispense medication abortion, contraception, or gender-affirming care to their patients who live in states where such essential care is illegal. California joins New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont, among the handful of states that have enacted such a shield law.
“Starting Jan. 1, 2024, under SB 345, California health care practitioners and pharmacists who want to do the right thing and help people from other states that have criminalized abortion or gender-affirming care, will be able to do so without risking their licenses or other prosecution,” Senator Skinner said in a letter to constituents. “They will no longer have to risk being extradited, prosecuted, or imprisoned in another state for providing essential, evidence-based, medical care that is legal in California.”
Under SB 345, people who have traveled to or live in a state that has criminalized abortion or gender-affirming care will be able to be treated by a California health care provider via telehealth or videoconferencing and have medication shipped to them from a participating California pharmacy. As long as these California health care providers and pharmacies are physically in California, they will receive legal protections from criminal and civil actions initiated in another state.
If another state attempts to prosecute a California doctor, nurse or pharmacist, SB 345 will block that state’s efforts by:
- Prohibiting California law enforcement, government officials, or government contractors from cooperating with out-of-state prosecutions related to abortion, contraception, or gender-affirming care.
- Allowing California providers and patients to file a lawsuit in California against anyone who tries to interfere with their right to obtain, provide, or dispense health care that is legally protected in California.
SB 345 was passionately supported by a large coalition of abortion and civil rights organizations and California health care licensing boards, including the Medical Board of California, the Board of Registered Nursing, the Physician Assistant Board, and the Pharmacy Board.
“SB 345 also was part of a package of bills on reproductive rights authored this year by members of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus (LWC), of which I am chair, and sponsored by the California Future of Abortion Council (CA FAB Council),” Skinner said, noting that last year the LWC and CA FAB Council also teamed up on a package of 15 new laws on reproductive justice.
“This two-year effort by the Women’s Caucus and the FAB Council has solidified California’s position as a national beacon for reproductive freedom,” Skinner continued. “It also shows that California will never back down in the face of oppressive laws in other states that seek to strip the rights of people to control their own bodies.”
Finally, SB 345 bars California-based social media and tech companies from disclosing to law enforcement any private communications of patients regarding health care that is legally protected in our state.
“This first-in-the-nation provision is designed to avoid the tragic situation in Nebraska in which a mom was recently sentenced to two years in prison after she bought abortion pills for her teen daughter,” Skinner explained. The Nebraska case was based on private information about the mother and daughter that Facebook supplied to law enforcement.
“Although no new state law can undo all the harm being caused by the anti-abortion members of the Supreme Court and the politicians and special interests who installed them, SB 345 puts California at the center of a new multistate effort to provide a lifeline to tens of millions of Americans,” Skinner said, noting that many of the same states that criminalized abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade last year “have now turned their sights on trans people and those who are gender nonconforming by criminalizing gender-affirming care.”
Nationwide, more than 400 bills have been introduced that target the care of gender-diverse youth, adults, and their families, the Senator said.
“These sweeping attacks on the rights of tens of millions of Americans to control their own bodies is extremely alarming,” she stated. “Our ability to seek safe and essential health care is a fundamental right. As Californians who believe in the fundamental right of bodily autonomy, we also have a duty to protect our health care professionals and the patients they serve. It’s the right thing to do. It’s also our ethical responsibility.”