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California’s pro-abortion ballot measure is poised to pass. So why are Democrats spending so much time and money on it?

Hundreds of demonstrators from two separate groups converged at the California State Capitol Friday, June 24, 2022 to protest the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the decades-old ruling that legalized abortion.
Kris Hooks
Hundreds of demonstrators from two separate groups converged at the California State Capitol Friday, June 24, 2022 to protest the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the decades-old ruling that legalized abortion.

Californians overwhelmingly support the right to legal abortion. So why are state and national Democrats spending time — and millions of dollars — campaigning for a reproductive rights ballot measure?

Proposition 1 would add the “fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” including the right to abortion and to contraception — to the state constitution. After the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the national right to an abortion earlier this year, advocates say it would provide stronger protections against potential national abortion restrictions, such as the one introduced by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Prop. 1 is poised to overwhelmingly pass: a recentpoll from the Public Policy Institute of California showed 69% of voters support it while 25% say they will vote no.

But the good numbers haven’t stopped prominent Democrats from pouring time and money into supporting the measure.

On Thursday, former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was in San Francisco to praise California lawmakers’ recent actions to expand abortion access and to campaign for Prop. 1.

“Leaders in California took immediate action because they know how important it is to show the rest of the nation that abortion is a fundamental right,” Clinton said at a panel for the event. “I’m proud to stand with the ‘Yes on Prop 1’ campaign and look forward to the momentum that this will carry for the rest of the country.”

Of the more than $9 million raised by Prop. 1 backers, $2 million came from Governor Gavin Newsom. He also dedicated the first ad of his re-election campaign to boost the measure, which he argues would ensure “California remains a [reproductive] freedom state forever.”

Other Democrats are spending big on the measure, too, including Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis ($100,000), state Sen. Anthony Portantino ($195,000) and Assembly member and congressional candidate Adam Gray ($51,000).

The initiative’s largest funder so far isn’t a political party or official, though. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, a tribe indigenous to what is now Marin and Sonoma counties, donated $5 million to the campaign last month.

Chairman Greg Sarris said it is “most important” to the tribe “that all women, particularly indigenous women and all low-income and women of color, continue to have sovereign rights over their bodies and access to all existing health care available to them.”

Democratic political strategist Robin Swanson said the spending from top officials on a measure that’s already polling well shows how important the issue of reproductive rights is to leaders like Newsom following the Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“I think they’re trying to create a sense of urgency around it,” she said. “A lot of Californians feel sort of immune to these right-wing, conservative ideas affecting our lives. But seeing 50 years of precedent overturned should be a shock to our systems.”

It also falls in line with Democrats’ efforts to “send a message to the rest of the country that California is a safe haven for women seeking abortions,” Swanson said.

She says Democrats hope it will boost turnout for candidates in competitive congressional races, where control of the U.S. House hangs in the balance.

Swanson also hopes the measure will drive more women across the political spectrum to the polls.

“I’m hoping that conservative female voters will surprise us just like they did in Kansas,” where votersrejected a measure that would have allowed state lawmakers to implement an abortion ban.

“One thing we’ve learned is that people don’t like to have their rights taken away,” she said. “I do think that there’s a conservative message to be found there that could turn out female conservative voters.”

No on Prop 1 campaign spokesperson Catherine Hadro said the infusion of cash from the left shows “that the yes side feels vulnerable.”

Opponents argue the proposition, if approved, would legalize abortions later in pregnancy. Current law limits abortions after viability — or when a fetus becomes viable outside the womb — which is typically around 23 weeks.

“We know we can absolutely win as voters continue to see that Proposition 1 overturns state law and allows late-term abortion up until the moment of birth,” Hadro said.

But it’s unclear whether that would actually be the case. Prop. 1 does not include language to address fetal viability or restrictions after a certain gestation, a point its authors intentionally left out of the language, according to a report by KQED.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates only about 1 percent of abortions happen during the later terms, or after 21 weeks’ gestation. More than 90 percent occur in the first 13 weeks.

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