Democratic governors across the country are pitching their states as “abortion sanctuaries” as they counter a growing number of Republican-led states seeking to tighten abortion restrictions.
Governors like J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Jay Inslee of Washington and Jared Polis of Colorado have taken steps to preserve abortion access, like stockpiling mifepristone or signing legislation offering residents outside their home states legal protections while seeking an abortion.
While many of those states are staunchly blue and unlikely to see a reversal of abortion access, Democratic governors are using the issue to flex their political muscles on an issue that they say won’t be going away in 2024.
“I don’t think it is unusual to think that we care about all Americans and all American women, even if they don’t reside in Washington state,” Inslee told The Hill in an interview this week.
Their efforts come as dueling lawsuits throw into question the availability of mifepristone, one of the two medications used as part of a medical abortion.
The Supreme Court is temporarily keeping mifepristone on the market until at least Friday as the Biden administration appeals the ruling of a district judge in Texas who said the drug was illegally approved 23 years ago.
At the same time, a judge in Washington state in a separate lawsuit ordered the FDA to leave in place the current mifepristone prescribing and dispensing rules for 17 blue states and D.C.
Legal experts and advocates said the patchwork of laws across the country is a prime example of the chaos unleashed after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and let each state make its own policy.
“Right now with the bans in different states that are constantly going in and out of effect, questions about what’s legal and what’s not, providers are rightfully confused,” said Angela Vasquez-Giroux, vice president of communications and research at the abortion advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America.
In Washington, Democrats in the state legislature recently passed a “shield law” that protects abortion providers from out-of-state prosecutions. The law comes after lawmakers in neighboring Idaho passed a bill that seeks to prevent minors from being driven across state lines for an abortion.
“There’s nothing unusual about us trying to protect people,” Inslee said, adding that he wants to protect providers and anyone who travels to the state from Idaho politicians who would “try to put his tentacles into the state of Washington.”
In Colorado, Polis recently signed a bill that codifies an executive order barring state agencies from cooperating with out-of-state investigations about reproductive health care. Oklahoma and Wyoming, both of which border Colorado, have passed abortion bans, though Wyoming’s has been temporarily blocked.
“These governors and these legislators are doing what they can to try to protect abortion access in their borders,” said Greer Donley, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
“The shield laws are really a response to the fear and the threats of the anti-abortion movement, that they’re going to try to reach outside their borders and try to stop abortions that are happening in other states,” Donley said.
Inslee, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey and California Gov. Gavin Newsom have garnered a hefty supply of mifepristone for their respective states as a bulwark in case the Supreme Court upholds a decision to invalidate the drug’s approval.
Amid all of this, Democratic strategist Basil Smikle suggested, blue-state governors have seen their national profiles rise.
“It’s the Republican governors and the Republican Party that has elevated these Democratic governors and laid bare that contrast in far more stark terms than had ever existed before,” Smikle said, adding “the Republicans have exacerbated this seemingly against their own interests.”
Meanwhile, the actions taken by Democratic governors have fueled complaints from anti-abortion lawmakers in those states that they might become abortion tourism destinations.
“When the state of Illinois allows for taxpayer [funding] of abortion, and then they’re the only ones within all the different states around, that means the one thing that we’re growing business to in the state of Illinois is people who want abortions,” said Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.).
“And the states around us, they come over to Illinois to have an abortion,” Bost said.
But Democrats believe strengthening abortion access is more important than ever and are making sure it’s a top issue heading into the 2024 campaign.
“You need to fight every single day to make sure that women have reproductive rights no matter where you are, and if there’s an opportunity to further codify those rights or to further enshrine a woman’s right to choose, whether you be here in Illinois or certainly down in Florida where they’re trying to strip all this stuff away, doesn’t really matter which state you’re in,” said Mike Ollen, campaign manager for Pritzker.
“I think it will be,” Inslee said when asked whether the issue would play a key role heading into 2024. “I think it was a significant reason for why there was no big red wave the Republicans predicted. I think that will continue to be an extreme problem for the Republican Party.”
Republicans “know they’ve got a huge problem, it’s one they created for themselves,” Inslee added. “And we have a solution for people, which is to vote.”