In a swift response to news that the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn the nation’s landmark abortion rights protections, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders announced Monday night they will ask voters in November to place permanent protections for the procedure in the California Constitution.
“California will not stand idly by as women across America are stripped of their rights and the progress so many have fought for gets erased,” Newsom said in a written statement, co-signed by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood). “We will fight.”
An amendment to the state Constitution would require voter approval. Few details on the effort were immediately available, though the process requires little more than a supermajority vote in both legislative houses to get on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot. Democrats hold enough seats in the state Senate and Assembly to send the issue to voters without Republican support — although the issue could easily become a focal point of statewide and legislative campaigns this year.
Newsom quickly lashed out on social media in the wake of reporting by Politico that a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion has been written to overturn the 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade. The legislative leaders quickly followed suit, deciding later to push to firmly enshrine abortion rights in the California Constitution.
The state already has a sweeping right to personal privacy enshrined in its Constitution by voters in 1972, drafted by an Orange County Assembly member who said at the time that he was alarmed by the potential of government intrusion into the lives of everyday Californians.
Nine years later, the amendment served as the underpinning of a California Supreme Court ruling that overturned a ban on coverage of abortion services for low-income women enrolled in the state’s Medi-Cal program.
“The restriction at issue undermines the right of privacy guaranteed under our California Constitution in that it threatens not only the woman’s interests in life, health, and personal bodily autonomy but also her right to decide for herself whether to parent a child,” then-Justice Mathew Tobriner wrote for the majority.
But although most legal analysts have considered the issue settled in California, Newsom and legislative leaders said Monday they believe the state must go further.
“California is proposing an amendment to enshrine the right to choose in our state constitution so that there is no doubt as to the right to abortion in this state,” the Democrats said in their statement. “We know we can’t trust the Supreme Court to protect reproductive rights, so California will build a firewall around this right in our state constitution. Women will remain protected here.”
Polls have consistently shown strong majorities of California voters support abortion rights, support that has crossed party lines.
Placing a measure on the November ballot will no doubt galvanize many voters, including some who might not otherwise have cast ballots in what has been shaping up to be a largely sleepy gubernatorial reelection year. Legislative and statewide candidates alike would largely be urged to weigh in on the proposal, mirroring the national interest that would be expected from a ruling by the nation’s highest court in late spring or early summer.