As they got off the elevator on the ninth floor of an office building near the California Capitol in Sacramento—the level where Governor Gavin Newsom’s offices are located—security officers approached the 11 students from the Pomona College politics class. “Did you get off on the wrong floor?” the officers inquired.
“No,” the students replied. “We are here to see Julia Spiegel and Dwight Payne and present our project to them.” Minutes later—after seeing California’s First Lady walk by—the briefcase-carrying students and their professor were ushered into a meeting room where they began their carefully planned presentation.
The meeting in the California capital on May 9 was the culmination of an entire semester’s work in City Task Force, an experiential learning course taught each spring by Heidi Haddad, associate professor of politics. The students conducted research for the Legal Affairs Division of the Office of the California Governor. They were guided in their work by Prof. Haddad and by Spiegel, deputy legal affairs secretary, and Payne, legal fellow, both of the governor’s staff.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, states across the country have introduced, and in many cases passed, bills restricting access to abortion. The student task force’s assignment was to research abortion measures, introduced or enacted, across all 50 states. In all, the 11 students found more than 25,000 bills, of which nearly 200 fit within the scope of their project.
“It was a really challenging process. For a lot of us, it was our first time reading real legislation,” notes Alex Morgan ’25, a philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) major. “Throughout the semester, I feel like we got progressively closer as the work got more intense.”
The Legal Affairs team asked the students to research two types of abortion-related bills: those concerning electronic health records (EHR) and those restricting abortion providers or supporters. The students identified 20 bills dealing with EHR, including mandatory state reporting, data segmentation and records retention. They found 187 bills covering restrictions on abortion providers or supporters. These included restrictions or bans on telehealth, medications used for abortion, the use of state funding or Medicaid for abortion services, and on travel for abortion care. The largest number were TRAP (Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers) bills that the task force characterized as imposing “excessive financial and administrative constraints on abortion providers typically to limit abortion access and indirectly shut down abortion providers.”
Not all the bills were designed to restrict abortion. In some states, bills ensured abortion access and patient privacy. Others prohibited or did not require a state to comply with subpoenas or warrants from out of state abortion investigators.
In their executive summary, the task force noted that a number of bills across the states had very similar language. They also found six states that had passed a high volume of abortion-related legislation: Missouri, Texas, Arizona, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Idaho.
Presenting Their Report
The students made a tight, 24-minute presentation to personnel in the governor’s Legal Affairs Division, with another 40-minute question-and-answer session. “It was an incredible opportunity to take what we had learned in the classroom and apply it in a real-world setting, presenting our research to policymakers who had the power to make meaningful change,” says Vidusshi Hingad ’25, a psychological science and politics major. “The experience allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for the policy-making process and to see firsthand how academic research can inform and influence public policy.”
Their findings, presented in a report and extensive searchable database, will help Gov. Newsom’s office as it considers new California policy. It will also be shared with the bipartisan Reproductive Freedom Alliance, composed of 21 governors committed to maintaining reproductive rights in their states.
“Teaching this course was such a rewarding experience,” says Haddad. “It was incredible to see the students work together as a team, and over the course of the semester, develop into experts on cutting-edge aspects of reproductive justice policy. It was also a privilege and honor to work with the California Governor’s Office on research that has meaning in the real world on such an important and timely issue.”
"Julia and I wanted to convey our deep appreciation for your work this semester,” Payne wrote to the class after the presentation. “We have been so impressed with your dedication and capability for months now—unsurprisingly, you all did an amazing job yesterday as well! The report and database are excellent, and the presentation was thorough and illuminating. It’s safe to say your work will make a real difference in the fight for reproductive justice.”
The class project opened up potential new career directions for students. “My focus has always been split between big national politics and really local grassroots politics,” Morgan remarks. “This class made me realize that working at the state level of government seems like a really cool opportunity to make a larger social impact without some of the pitfalls of national gridlock.”