Sheng Thao addressing media regarding her resolution to declare Oakland a sanctuary city for abortion
District 4 Councilmember Sheng Thao brought forward a resolution to declare Oakland a pro-choice sanctuary city. Credit: Amir Aziz

Oakland city leaders plan to declare Oakland a sanctuary city for abortion, in response to reports that the U.S. Supreme Court could soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that protects abortion access for women.

On Tuesday evening, the City Council will vote on a resolution marking the declaration, calling for Alameda County and California to dedicate funds to reproductive health care, and emphasizing the council’s support for the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would secure the right to abortion, that failed in the U.S. Senate last week

“We know that just because something is made illegal, that doesn’t mean that there are less abortions that are being had. But statistics and history have shown that if abortion is illegal, that would mean that women will die,” said City Councilmember Sheng Thao during a news conference Tuesday morning. “Today we’re going to declare the city of Oakland a sanctuary city, signaling to the rest of the nation that if you are in need of health-care access, you can come to Oakland, and you will be given that right.”

Thao, who represents District 4 and is running for mayor, sponsored the resolution and made the announcement Tuesday, along with At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, District 2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, Kevin Jenkins, a trustee with the Peralta Community Colleges District who is also running for City Council, representatives from the offices of Assemblymember Mia Bonta and U.S. House Representative Barbara Lee, and leaders from Planned Parenthood. 

While the resolution is largely symbolic, it signals to those across the country that they can come to Oakland to get an abortion or other reproductive health care, Thao said. Thao, who added she has benefited from Planned Parenthood’s services, wrote a letter to Rep. Lee advocating for $1 million in funding for Planned Parenthood to expand in Oakland, where it operates two clinics in West and East Oakland. In 2021, the Oakland clinics served nearly 20,000 patients, Thao wrote. 

Since news broke in early May that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, many elected officials across the state have expressed their commitment to protect abortion and reproductive health-care rights for women in California, as well as people from other states who may come to California seeking an abortion. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed $125 million to strengthen access to reproductive care in the state. His proposal includes more funding for clinics that serve people without insurance, research and outreach grants to educate people about sexual health, money for clinics to enhance their security, and millions in subsidies to help people afford abortion procedures. 

Santa Clara County officials voted to allocate $3 million to Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which operates health-carehealthcare centers in the Bay Area, Sacramento, the Central Valley, and Northern Nevada. The funding will help renovate and expand some Planned Parenthood clinics in San Jose. 

Councilmember Kaplan, who is running for Alameda County supervisor, wants to see the county and state take similar steps. 

“Let us make no mistake. They are threatening to turn back the clock on our rights and our lives,” Kaplan said. “The same laws that guarantee the right to reproductive freedom are the same laws that ensure the right to contraception, the right for LGBT people to be allowed to live and love as we choose, and are the same laws that protect our fundamental liberty to decide what to do with our own bodies.”

Stephanie Dominguez Walton, who serves on the board of Planned Parenthood Advocates Mar Monte, the political arm of the organization, said that since the passage of Texas’ six-week abortion ban last September, Oakland’s Planned Parenthood clinics have seen an uptick in patients from other states. 

“Planned Parenthood has purchased new land for new health centers and expanded the current health center footprint for major transportation hubs like Reno, San Jose, Fresno, and right here in Oakland. This preparation has already been tested as more and more patients come from out of state seeking care in California,” said Walton. “That’s why it’s critical Oakland become a sanctuary city and it is my hope that others will follow suit, so that anyone with a uterus has access to safe, legal, abortion care on demand.”

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.