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With Roe in limbo, California vows to protect abortion rights

People rally in support of abortion rights at the state Capitol in Sacramento on May 21, 2019.
Rich Pedroncelli
People rally in support of abortion rights at the state Capitol in Sacramento on May 21, 2019.

With a leaked draft opinion showing the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe vs. Wade, California vows to strengthen abortion rights.

“California will not sit back. We are going to fight like hell.”

That was Gov. Gavin Newsom’s initial response to Politico’s explosive Monday night publication of a draft U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion that suggests justices are poised to strike down Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that guaranteed the federal constitutional right to an abortion.

Hours later, Newsom and the Democratic leaders of the state Legislature announced plans to introduce 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.” For the amendment to be incorporated into the constitution, it would need to be passed by two-thirds of lawmakers in both the Assembly and Senate and approved by voters.

Politico acknowledged the draft opinion has many caveats: It represents only the opinion of Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the draft for the majority. It’s far from final — the draft was written in February, and the court isn’t expected to issue a final ruling until June or July. And vote breakdowns can change: Although four other Republican-appointed justices reportedly voted to back Alito in private conferences while three Democratic-appointed justices are working on dissents and Chief Justice John Roberts remains undecided, that lineup could shift in the final opinion.

The draft ruling — which is the first to be released in the court’s modern history while a case is still pending — could supercharge an election season that’s getting into full swing with the June 7 primary just a month away, raising the stakes in already competitive seats.

In his first campaign video of 2022, released Monday, Newsom strolls through a redwood forest while pledging to “always lead the California way.”

As the news sank in Monday night, some prominent California Republicans slammed the leak — California Republican National Committee member Harmeet Dhillon deemed it “terrorism against the Court and against our nation” — while Democrats promised to defend abortion rights.

  • U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla: “It’s time for Congress to get off the sidelines. We must protect the fundamental right to choose.”
  • Jodi Hicks, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California: “This is the nightmare scenario we in the reproductive health, rights, and justice space have been sounding the alarm about. … To Californians, and people who may seek care here due to hostile bans in their home state, know this: Planned Parenthood health centers across California will remain open.”
  • Tony Hoang, executive director of Equality California: “There is nothing five or six justices can do to stop people from needing and seeking abortion care. What they can do — and what overturning Roe will do — is cost people their lives and livelihoods. … We must organize, mobilize and vote like our lives depend on it. Because they do.”

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.