Abortion, in general, is legal under California state law and throughout the United States. However, California law places some limits on when a pregnant woman can terminate her pregnancy. Specifically, a woman can get an abortion up until her fetus becomes viable. And only qualified medical providers are allowed to perform legal abortions. If an abortion is performed outside the legal parameters, it can lead to criminal charges.
1. What is an abortion?
Abortion is a medical termination of a pregnancy. An abortion procedure ends the life of the fetus and does not produce a live birth. 1 2
2. Does California law place limitations on abortion rights?
Abortion laws in California grant women have a fundamental right to terminate their pregnancies. There are limitations to abortion access and reproductive freedom, however.3
The right to abortion care is absolute in the state in 2 cases. These are when:
- the fetus is not yet viable, or
- the procedure is necessary to protect the life or health of the mother.4
Once the fetus becomes viable, though, a woman’s right to abortion becomes more limited.5 Upon viability, abortion as a reproductive right is only legal when necessary for the life or health of the mother.
Moreover, only qualified medical professionals may perform abortions. This is true even if the fetus is viable.67
Abortion reproductive health rights are far stronger in California than in some other parts of the country. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that women have a constitutional right to have an abortion.8 That right is not absolute, however. State legislatures can limit place reasonable limits on it. Most states have. Most states have enacted strict laws that dictate where abortions can happen and who can provide them. In some cases, this leaves entire states with barely any abortion clinics.9
3. How late can you have an abortion in California?
There is no strict cut-off date as to when a pregnancy may be terminated. But absent special circumstances, abortion services cannot be performed once the fetus becomes viable. By definition, a fetus becomes viable if it is likely to sustain survival outside of the uterus. It has to be able to survive without extraordinary medical measures.10
Doctors determine whether a given fetus is viable. They make this decision on a case-by-case basis.11
Typically, a fetus becomes viable around the 23rd week of the pregnancy. Doctors also consider a fetus to be viable once it weighs at least 500 grams.12
4. Who is allowed to perform abortions?
Not all medical professionals can provide a surgical abortion in California. They must have a valid medical license. That license cannot be revoked or suspended. Otherwise, it would be an illegal abortion.13
Abortions by medication (“medication abortion”) can be provided by a wider range of healthcare professionals, including:
- Licensed nurses and nurse practitioners,
- Nurse midwives, and
- Physician’s assistants.14
These abortions by medication need to happen early, however. These health services can only be conducted in the first trimester of the pregnancy.15
An employer cannot require medical professionals to perform an abortion. Doctors also cannot be penalized for refusing to provide one. Healthcare facilities can also refuse to provide abortion medical care without facing legal repercussions.16
5. Can underage women get an abortion?
Yes. Underage women have the same right to an abortion as adult women do. It is unconstitutional to require them to get parental consent.17
Our criminal defense lawyers have law offices in Los Angeles and throughout California.
- California Health and Safety Code 123420 – 123473.
- California Health and Safety Code 123464(a). (“‘Abortion’ means any medical treatment intended to induce the termination of a pregnancy except for the purpose of producing a live birth).
- California Health and Safety Code 123462(b). (“Every woman has the fundamental right to choose to bear a child or to choose and to obtain an abortion, except as specifically limited by this article”).
- California Health and Safety Code 123466.
- California Health and Safety Code 123468(b).
- California Health and Safety Code 123468(a).
- California Health and Safety Code 123450(a).
- Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
- See Reis Thebault, “Missouri’s last abortion clinic is running out of time after judge’s latest ruling,” The Washington Post (June 24, 2019).
- California Health and Safety Code 123464(d).
- See e.g., Barragan v. Lopez, 156 Cal.App.4th 997 (Cal. App. 2007).
- California Health and Safety Code 123468(a) and California Business and Professions Code 2253(b)(1).
- California Business and Professions Code 2253(b)(2).
- California Health and Safety Code 123420.
- American Academy of Pediatrics v. Lungren (1997) 16 Cal.4th 307.