Skelton California’s long history as a voice for abortion rights


People often ask me how things have changed at the California Capitol over the past 60 years. One answer: politics today is much more partisan.

A striking example is abortion.

This is true for many issues. More lawmakers were used to thinking for themselves and not being so beholden to party dogma.

Today, abortion is front and center again after it was announced last month that the US Supreme Court was set to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized pregnancy terminations. in all the countries.

In Sacramento, there was political play by Democrats and partisan rote voting from both parties.

It’s in stark contrast to 55 years ago this month, when the Democratic-controlled legislature narrowly passed and new Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the nation’s most liberal abortion law into law. .

Party politics was not a factor. Whether a lawmaker is a Democrat or a Republican doesn’t matter about abortion. Legislators were divided by religion. Protestants generally supported the bill and Catholics opposed it.

The fledgling governor, a Protestant, was torn by conflicting advice and moral disputes. George Steffes, who lobbied the legislature for Reagan, remembers when he pledged to sign the bill.

The author, Democratic Senator Tony Beilenson of Beverly Hills, was invited to Reagan’s office to present his proposal.

“At the end,” Steffes told me, “Reagan said, ‘Tony, I disagree with you. But most lawmakers voted for it. Republican leaders voted for it and I asked to sign it, and I will sign it.

“It’s one of the great examples of how Reagan was willing to listen to everyone,” said Steffes, who attended the meeting. “He didn’t close his mind because the bill came from MPs of the other party.”

In this case, the support was bipartisan – and so was the opposition.

The Assembly jockey was Republican Craig Biddle of Riverside. Republican House Leader Robert Monagan supported him. A key Senate committee vote was cast by the Republican president. Future Republican Governor George Deukmejian voted “yes” in the Senate, where the measure passed without a vote in reserve.

Catholic Democrats, including ultra-liberal Congressman John Vasconcellos of San Jose, strongly opposed the bill.

One Catholic Democrat who voted “yes” was future Assembly Speaker Bob Moretti de Van Nuys, a graduate of Notre Dame University. During the debate in the Assembly, I saw Moretti sitting at his desk, his head buried in his hands, crying before voting.

Skip to Monday, when the Senate voted to place a measure on the November ballot to amend the California Constitution with a specific guarantee for abortion rights in that state.

He needed a two-thirds majority vote, 27. It rose to 29 to 8. All “yes” votes came from Democrats and all “no” votes came from Republicans. The measure was transmitted to the Assembly, where passage was practically assured.

The GOP’s unified opposition in the Senate was somewhat shocking because abortion rights are overwhelmingly favored by California voters.

An April poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that 76% of likely voters opposed nullifying Roe — 87% of Democrats, 77% of Independents and 54% of Republicans. Each geographic region favored maintaining Roe’s protections.

Only nine of the 40 Senate seats are held by Republicans. One of the reasons the GOP has fallen into insignificance in Sacramento is its stubborn opposition to social issues such as abortion. The party makes a big Democratic target in left-leaning California.

Even Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Republican re-election opponent, State Sen. Brian Dahle of rural Bieber in Lassen County, voted against the measure. But he wisely remained silent during the debate.

Compare the current Republican gubernatorial contender with Reagan and two later GOP governors, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both were in favor of the right to abortion. And that’s one of the reasons Wilson was elected in 1990.

But let’s be honest, California Democrats are openly politicizing the issue. They’re trying to distract voters from the GOP’s better problems of inflation, homelessness and crime. And they’re counting on the threat to abortion rights to lure voters to the polls and increase Democratic turnout.

Senate Leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), the author of the constitutional amendment, acknowledged the politicization during an interview, though she insisted that was not her motive.

“I know people push it for political reasons and think it might get the vote, but to me, that’s not where I’m from,” Atkins told me.

She is credible on this insistence. Atkins ran women’s health clinics that offered abortions in San Diego and Los Angeles for six years and heard many heartbreaking stories from pregnant women.

While her measure has absolutely no effect on California’s current abortion rights — they’re strong — she worries that future federal courts, if not a governor and legislature, will weaken the state’s protective law. . A state constitutional amendment would prevent federal tampering, she believes.

But no one really thinks a future California governor or legislature would dare try to take away the right to abortion.

A recent UC San Diego poll showed that the abortion ballot measure could increase turnout among independent voters by nearly seven percentage points, and about the same amount among women of childbearing age. procreate.

That’s what most Democratic agents are all about.

Regardless, voter endorsement of the ballot measure would be a strong voice for abortion rights.

That’s one thing that hasn’t changed in the past half-century: California’s voice has been shouted across America. Unfortunately, he now has more than one political ring.

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.

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