Abortion leaders gather in California to discuss strategy

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Planned Parenthood leaders from 24 states gathered in the California capital on Friday to begin work on a national strategy to protect and strengthen abortion access, a counterattack aimed at lifting restrictions that have emerged in more than half the country since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

They aim to emulate the success liberals have had in California, where state lawmakers passed some of the strongest abortion protections in the country this year, culminating in a national election this fall that would make abortion a constitutional right in the most populous state of the country. .

California Attorney General Rob Bonda, speaking to a group of 25 leaders in a Sacramento hotel conference room with 30 others watching online, said abortion advocates could channel what he called the “rogue energy” of advocates anti-abortion — “but not as a way to hurt people.”

“Anti-freedom states are playing the long game. They have successfully led a ruthless, concerted siege of reproductive freedom,” Bonta said. “It’s time to play this game too.”

But replicating California’s results across the country won’t be easy. California’s government is dominated by Democrats who support abortion access and rushed to support new legislation this year after the court overturned a landmark 1973 ruling that effectively legalized abortion nationwide.

In Washington, while Democratic President Joe Biden supports abortion, Democrats hold slim majorities in the House and Senate — advantages that could be eroded after November’s midterm elections.

Even if Democrats retain control of the US Senate, they likely won’t have enough votes to stop Republicans from blocking abortion legislation. Democrats in the House have already voted in favor of a bill that would legalize abortion nationwide, but have failed to push the bill past an evenly divided Senate.

“We can only get so far through our internal maneuvers. We also need your external mobilization to rally grassroots support, as you do so well,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in a video message to the group on Friday.

Jodi Hicks, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said in an interview that one goal of Friday’s meeting was for state leaders to discuss what strategies have worked to protect abortion access and create a unified plan in the coming months.

“We really want to learn from each other,” Hicks said.

Participants were not specific about their strategies for protecting and expanding abortion access during parts of Friday’s meeting attended by an Associated Press reporter.

Opponents of abortion are also mobilizing nationally. An anti-abortion group, National Right to Life, has proposed legislation for states to ban all abortions except to prevent the death of a pregnant woman. The new legal frontier could include the prosecution of doctors who defy the bans, and skirmishes over access to medical abortion are already underway. Others hope to elect more conservatives in November to push an anti-abortion agenda.

Abortion rights groups feel an urgency to act, especially with bans and restrictions in place in the majority of states. Just three months after Roe v. Wade, abortion access in more than half of US states is considered “restrictive,” according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

This includes abortion bans in 11 states, two states where abortion is prohibited after six weeks of pregnancy, and nine states that restrict access in other ways.

Abortion rights leaders were encouraged by California’s rapid success in passing new abortion protections, the result of more than a year of careful planning. In the fall of 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom formed the Future of Abortion Council, bringing together more than 40 state officials and abortion rights groups to analyze the state’s abortion laws.

They produced a report with more than 45 recommendations, which formed the basis for a package of 15 bills that passed the Legislature this year. The bills make abortions cheaper for women with private insurance, create scholarships for students studying to provide abortions, let some nurses perform abortions without a doctor’s supervision, and protect abortion providers and volunteers from out-of-state penalties for providing abortions.

Newsom is expected to sign most of them into law by the end of this month. In addition to the new protections, lawmakers approved $200 million in new spending that will, among other things, pay for abortions for people who can’t afford them and cover travel costs for women from other states who come to California for care.

Jonathan Keller, president of the California Family Council, said in a statement that other states should not follow California’s lead in expanding abortion protections.

“These policies are neither fiscally responsible nor pro-choice, as they only offer to pay for abortion, not prenatal care or adoption,” Keller wrote. “Why would any other state want to prioritize abortion over adoption and parenting? It is offensive to offer financial incentives to women only on the condition that they terminate their pregnancy.”

About six in 10 U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in most cases, and access to abortion is becoming increasingly important to voters, according to the Pew Research Center. In California, 81% of California voters say abortion is an important issue in the 2022 election, according to a University of California, Berkeley poll.

“Five Americans who happen to sit on the Supreme Court went and told 330 million Americans that we’re going to take away a right that you had,” US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told the group on Friday.

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