Democratic governors form alliance on abortion rights

Democratic governors in 20 states are launching a network intended to strengthen abortion access in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision nixing a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy and instead shifting regulatory powers over the procedure to state governments.

Organizers, led by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, described the Reproductive Freedom Alliance as a way for governors and their staffs to share best practices and affirm abortion rights for the approximately 170 million Americans who live in the consortium’s footprint — and even ensuring services for the remainder of U.S. residents who live in states with more restrictive laws.

“We can all coalesce,” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in an interview ahead of a Tuesday announcement. She added that the court’s Dobbs decision that ended a national right to abortion “horrified” and put pressure on governors to act. “This is leveraging our strengths … to have more of a national voice.”

That includes, organizers said, sharing model statutory language and executive orders protecting abortion access, ways to protect abortion providers from prosecution, strategies to maximize federal financing for reproductive health care such as birth control, and support for manufacturers of abortion medication and contraceptives that face potential new restrictions from conservatives.

Lujan Grisham noted the launch comes as a federal court in Texas considers a challenge to the nationwide availability of medication abortion, which now accounts for the majority of abortions in the U.S.

In a statement, Newsom called the effort, which he and his aides spent months organizing, “a moral obligation” and a “firewall” to protect “fundamental rights.”

The group includes executives of heavily Democratic states like California, where voters overwhelmingly approve of abortion rights, but also involves every presidential battleground state led by a Democrat, including Govs. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania and Tony Evers of Wisconsin.

The alliance has secured its initial funding from the California Wellness Foundation and the Rosenberg Foundation, not-for-profits that often steer money to public health efforts focused on disadvantaged communities.

While the organization is billed as national and nonpartisan, the makeup underscores that abortion access since Dobbs has settled essentially into two Americas that broadly track the platforms of the nation’s two major parties. That means greater access in states controlled by Democrats, tighter restrictions or practically outright bans in those controlled by Republicans.

For example, 22 Democratic-run states have weighed in on the Texas challenge to medical abortions that was filed by many of the same litigant states that worked together to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. A similar contingent of Republican-led states has filed briefs in the Texas case urging a judge to reverse a decades-old approval by the Food and Drug Administration of medical abortions.

Still, Newsom aides said the group would welcome Republicans, though they declined to name any GOP executives that Newsom or other Democratic governors might be recruiting to the consortium. Indeed, a handful of Republican governors support abortion rights broadly.

Lujan Grisham mentioned New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who has sent mixed messages on the issue. Sununu signed a state budget in 2021 that included a ban on abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy but also said after the Dobbs decision that abortion would remain legal in his state. He endorsed candidates in the November elections who favored further restrictions but also supports adding exemptions to the current law for victims of rape and incest.

Lujan Grisham acknowledged that the alliance cannot make national policy or even impose policy across state lines. But she said there’s practical value in having executives and their staffs have a formal framework to communicate.

She noted that New Mexico lawmakers now are considering how to affirm abortion access with a statute, even though she and others believe the state’s constitution already establishes the right.

“The problem is everyone keeps challenging those constitutional interpretations,” she said. “We’re going to codify equality on abortion rights, reproductive rights and care in as narrow as possible way.” New Mexico’s process, she said, could become a model for other similarly situated states.

Governors’ offices in the alliance also have started working with advocacy groups that back abortion access.

Jeanné Lewis, the interim CEO of Faith in Public Life, a progressive multistate faith-based organization, said having states work together to ensure abortion access is essential as states and federal lawmakers continue to consider bans and deeper restrictions.

“It is important for governors to be in conversations now about shared solutions across state lines,” she said.

Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Foundation of America, said states should be working together to protect abortion access, especially given the pending Texas case.