CA officials decry Supreme Court's Roe decision

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Friday June 24, 2022
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Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes spoke on the U.S. Supreme Court's abortion decision during a Zoom call June 24. Photo: Screengrab
Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes spoke on the U.S. Supreme Court's abortion decision during a Zoom call June 24. Photo: Screengrab

California women lawmakers and elected officials decried the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade during a Zoom call Friday and vowed to make the state a "safe haven" for people who give birth, while at a later news conference Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta said the state would do more than its fair share in helping pregnant people who need abortion services.

The 6-3 decision issued June 24, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, was a case in which an abortion clinic challenged a new law in Mississippi that banned abortion at any time after 15 weeks, unless there is a medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality. It overturns nearly 50 years of precedent established by Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a federal right to an abortion.

The decision now leaves access to abortion up to the individual states. Seven states automatically banned abortion following the court ruling, while Oklahoma lawmakers had banned nearly all abortions in May. Another 13 states are expected to do so in the coming days.

Elected leaders in the Golden State, meanwhile, are taking steps to further protect a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. They are also sounding alarm bells over how the Dobbs decision could be used to erode other federal protections.

During the virtual press call lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) pointed out what she described as troubling comments from Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion, which she said could lead the court to overturn LGBTQ precedents like the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) said that Newsom was expected to sign her Assembly Bill 1666 Friday. The bill would protect patients and providers in California from civil actions and financial retaliation by states with abortion bans that they may face for providing abortion care that's legal in the state, according to a fact sheet provided by the women's caucus.

"How it feels to be a woman in America, to be a birthing person in America? It feels really devastating," she said.

Newsom signed AB 1666 at the news conference.

"I'm very mindful California will play an outsize role," in reproductive health care, the governor said. He said the state has budgeted tens of millions of dollars to provide grants to clinics to help cover the costs of people seeking to travel to California.

Newsom was forceful in urging people to see what's happening in the country. "Pay attention to what the hell is going on. The 1790s founding era — that's what they're pursuing," he said, referring to the Dobbs decision and efforts by Republicans to roll back rights.

He was asked by a reporter if he thought that there would need to be future state constitutional amendments on issues like same-sex marriage. "Yes, I do," he said, recalling his time as San Francisco's mayor in 2004 when he ordered city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, sparking the legal fight for marriage equality.

"It's something I thought I'd never see," he said of the possible need for an amendment. "A Supreme Court justice expressed clarity regarding reconsidering same-sex marriage."

Newsom also said that national Democrats "have a lot of work to do." He noted that the anti-choice movement has been agitating for Roe's repeal since it was decided 50 years ago. Now that it's been overturned, others' rights are at stake.

"Trans rights — nine states have banned trans girls from playing sports," Newsom said. "They're coming for you next."

Women's caucus

The Legislative Women's Caucus held the virtual call just a few hours after the ruling, and several speakers described themselves as "pissed" and "speechless." They vowed that the Legislature would pass a package of 14 bills, developed with the help of the Future Council of Abortion, that they said would protect women and others who give birth, such as transgender people not only in California but those who come to the state seeking reproductive services and abortions.

In Thomas' concurrence, the justice urges the court to "reconsider all of this court's substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell." Lawrence v. Texas struck down state bans against same-sex sexual relations; Obergefell v. Hodges struck state bans against marriage for same-sex couples; and Griswold v. Connecticut struck bans against couples using contraceptives. He stated that the court has "a duty to 'correct the error' established in those precedents...."

"I'm deeply concerned about Thomas' concurring opinion to revisit marriage equality and contraceptives," Cervantes said.

Newsom also mentioned Thomas' concurrence. "They're coming after you next. Period. Full stop," he said. "It's a serious moment in American history."

Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), chair of the women's caucus, noted that as a Latina, she sees how the decision will affect marginalized communities, including people of color and the trans community. "It's the first time we've lost a constitutional right," she said.

Lawmakers have been preparing for this decision even before the leaked draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito was made public in early May. As many feared, the opinion issued Friday mirrored that draft, overturning the 50-year-old Roe decision. For example, Garcia pointed out the 14 FAB bills that make up the Reproductive Justice Policy Priority Package now making its way through the Legislature was introduced in January. (Oral argument in the Dobbs case was heard December 1, and many court observers said then that Roe could be overturned.)

"Women and child-bearing people will be protected by the package of bills," Garcia said.

State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), vice chair of the women's caucus, said she was "pissed" about the court ruling.

"This is about power," she said, adding that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and former President Donald Trump (R) don't "care about abortion. It's about power." (As majority leader, McConnell blocked former Democratic President Barack Obama from filling a court vacancy ahead of the 2016 election and pushed through the nomination of conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett after the death of liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just weeks before the 2020 election. Trump nominated Barrett, and Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh during his four years in office. The result was a 6-3 conservative majority on the court.)

"The Republicans who put these justices in positions care about power," Skinner said.

Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis (D), a former ambassador to Hungary during the Obama administration, said that the six justices who voted to overturn Roe "have just weakened the institution of the court. They stripped away a right that's been protected for 50 years. This will not stand. We're going to fight for that right."

Several speakers called on the federal government to protect abortion and others noted that California voters will have an opportunity this November to vote on a state constitutional amendment to explicitly secure contraception and abortion. "It will no longer be based on privacy," Skinner said, as the Roe decision was.

Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland), the wife of state Attorney General Rob Bonta, said that the caucus has prepared itself for "this darkest moment."

At the news conference, Rob Bonta said, "Abortion remains fully legal in California. Today's decision does not impact our state's laws. In California, we refuse to turn back the clock."

The caucus was asked what the state is doing to prepare for a likely influx of people coming here for abortions and reproductive services. Skinner said that immediately or soon, as many as 26 states are poised to criminalize those seeking abortions.

"We're getting prepared," she said, referring to SB 1375 by lesbian state Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) that would increase access and accessibility in health care and abortion services by making the necessary clarifications to state law to allow nurse practitioners that meet specified criteria to practice independently without physician assistance and provide first trimester abortion care without physician supervision.

Garcia pointed to AB 1918 by Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine) that would create a reproductive health service corps within the Department of Health Care Access and Information. The corps would recruit, train and retain a diverse workforce of health care professionals who will be part of reproductive health teams assigned to work in underserved areas.

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