California is on track to become one of the first states in the country to explicitly enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in its constitution, after lawmakers voted on Monday to advance a constitutional amendment that would put the issue on the November ballot.
The amendment is part of a wave of legislation in liberal states aimed at bolstering reproductive rights in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last week. California, which has marketed itself as a safe haven for women seeking abortions, is attempting to set the example.
The proposed amendment was easily introduced in the state legislature, where Democrats have a supermajority, and voters will now consider it during the general election. The amendment is expected to pass because a large majority of Californians oppose overturning Roe. It does not need the signature of Governor Gavin Newsom (D), who supports the bill.
If passed, the amendment will confirm abortion rights that are already protected under current law. The California constitution, like the constitutions of several other states, includes a right to privacy that courts have interpreted as protecting abortion. However, a leaked draft opinion of the Roe decision last month prompted lawmakers to clearly state a safeguard for reproductive rights.
The California Future of Abortion Council, a coalition of abortion rights advocates, applauded the vote on Monday.
A similar constitutional amendment will appear on ballots in Vermont, the first state to propose one.
Along with the amendment, California leaders recently announced a number of initiatives aimed at countering the Supreme Court’s decision and the increasingly aggressive effort in conservative states to restrict abortion access.
The proposed budget for next year in California includes more than $200 million for reproductive health-care services. On Friday, Newsom signed legislation to protect abortion providers who care for patients traveling from states where the procedure is now illegal. He also announced a collaboration with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to make the West Coast a safe haven for abortion care, promising to shield patients and providers from out-of-state civil and criminal prosecution.
According to advocates, California currently has some of the most protective abortion policies, and local leaders have been preparing for months for an influx of patients from other states in a post-Roe world, where anti-abortion legislation will affect roughly half of the country. According to one statistical model from UCLA’s Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy, between 8,000 and 16,000 more people will travel to California for abortion care each year as a result of the new restrictions. The majority will most likely flock to Los Angeles County.
Hundreds of protesters marched through downtown Los Angeles over the weekend, from City Hall to a freeway off-ramp, holding signs that read “Abort the court” and “Bodily autonomy is a human right.” The enraged protests across the state demonstrated the broad support for abortion rights in California. According to a survey conducted last year by the Public Policy Institute of California, 77 percent of adults, including nearly 60 percent of Republicans polled, do not want Roe v. Wade overturned.
Nonetheless, several lawmakers, religious groups, and advocacy organizations applauded the court’s decision while condemning the proposed constitutional amendment.
The California Family Council, a Fresno-based anti-abortion organization, filed an objection to the bill, writing, “Life is a human right for every life, no matter how small or at what stage of development.” This bill completely ignores the fact that equality begins in the womb.” The council’s president, Jonathan Keller, said in a statement after the legislature voted to add the question to the November ballot that it was “extreme, even for a state like California.”
Republican Assembly Leader James Gallagher, a father of four, including twins born 10 weeks prematurely, argued in a floor speech before the vote that the proposed amendment does not restrict late-term abortions, an assertion that bill supporters refuted, claiming it does not change current state law on fetal viability.
Before entering politics, Atkins directed a reproductive health center in San Diego, and she believes the amendment should send a message to the state and the country that California is committed to ensuring access to reproductive care.