This November, California voters will have final say over whether to enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in the state constitution.
The amendment says the state “shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions, which includes their fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and their fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives.”
The legislation is part of a package of bills to expand access to abortion as California leaders brand it as a “reproductive freedom state.” The amendment passed the Senate last week and will be placed on the November ballot for voter approval.
Speaker Anthony Rendon (D—Lakewood) said abortion bans “don’t end abortion, they only outlaw safe abortion. We must preserve the fundamental reproductive rights of women here in California because they are under attack elsewhere.”
Rendon and Senate pro Tem Toni Atkins (D—San Diego) introduced the amendment after a draft opinion of the ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case was leaked in May.
Several lawmakers grew emotional as they discussed the ruling and shared their own stories of pregnancy, birth, adoption and abortion.
“I got to make that decision,” Assembly member Buffy Wicks (D—Oakland) said of her abortion when she was 25 years old and sleeping on a friend’s couch. She credits that decision for her career working in the Obama administration and meeting her husband.
“I got to have two beautiful baby girls who are my everything, and I got to have a family when I was ready. That decision was critical for me, and it was mine,” she said.
Assembly member Isaac Bryan (D—Los Angeles) said his mother was “a rape survivor in Texas, a white woman with a Black baby” who chose to give him up for adoption.
“I get asked all the time why that doesn’t make me pro-life” Bryan said. “It's because my mother had options. She had choices and they were hers to make. And I refuse to be tokenized to undermine the bodily autonomy of women and childbearing people.”
Republican leader James Gallagher (R—Yuba City) acknowledged the “sensitive” nature of the debate and said he could not support the measure because of his twin sons, who were delivered 10 weeks early after multiple complications.
“My twin boys are alive and they are people,” Gallagher said. “They were alive and they were people at 18 weeks, when at UCSF, they were prepared to go do surgery on their hearts to save them in utero,” and when they were delivered 12 weeks later.
The constitutional amendment “says nothing about their rights,” the Sutter County Republican said. “We have to think about that because quite honestly, I think we can make a better policy.”
In the aftermath of the Dobbs ruling, several Republican-led states are moving to ban or restrict abortion. Abortion providers say California has already experienced an uptick in patients traveling from Texas and Arizona seeking abortions and they expect that number to increase.
State lawmakers and Governor Gavin Newsom on Sunday agreed to a budget deal that would provide $205 million to expand reproductive health care, including security for clinics, grants for abortion clinics to provide care to those who cannot afford it, a public-private abortion fund and incentives for providers to practice in underserved areas of the state.
Newsom has already signed bills this year to protect patients and providers from potential lawsuits in other states and to ban insurers from charging out-of-pocket costs for abortions.
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