An abortion rights question on the California ballot reignites the debate

As California voters decide whether to amend their state constitution to expressly protect abortion rights, lawmakers still disagree on whether the amendment will pass. enshrine Those rights, which state law allows abortion up to 24 weeks, or expand They allow abortion, at any stage of pregnancy, for any reason.

During the Legislature’s debate over the amendment, called Proposition 1, on the November ballot, there were several awkward moments after Republicans stalled Democrats on a question — especially when Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) blanked it before the final vote in June. “California law generally prohibits the performance of abortions past the point of fetal viability,” he said. “What will this constitutional amendment change?”

The floor went quiet. For a full 30 seconds, no one said anything. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon whispered to Democratic colleagues to repeat the question and then promised to answer. He never did.

Viability has long been a controversial concept, plaguing ethicists on both sides of the abortion debate Roe v. Wade Decision in 1973. Supreme Court justices wrote that a woman’s right to privacy was protected only until viability — when a fetus is capable of “meaningful life outside the womb.” The court said that occurs between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Since then, many doctors have lamented the legal and political bastardization of the medical concept, arguing that efficacy is far more complex than just gestational age. But the public latched onto it, and both opponents and supporters of abortion rights looked favorably on restricting access to the procedure after pregnancy.

Includes performance limits from current California law RoMost of the second trimester and beyond allow abortion for any reason only if the health of the patient or the fetus is at risk.

But the constitutional amendment mentioned in Proposition 1 does not contain the word “future”. Even among legal scholars, there is no consensus on whether Proposition 1 is approved or if California’s elimination of abortion time limits means that the current viability standard will remain.

“It at least opens the door,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California-Davis, adding that the court could possibly give a final interpretation of Proposition 1 after the vote, if it is approved.

The V-word debate reignites

When Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Chico) spoke during the final floor debate in June, his voice was choked with emotion. He couldn’t support the constitutional amendment, he said, “because of what’s not in it.”

She choked up at one point while talking about her twin boys, who were born two and a half months early and almost needed heart surgery in utero. “They were alive, and they were human,” he repeated throughout his speech, pointing to Lecter each time for emphasis, as he described his wife’s pregnancy at 18 weeks, 23 weeks and 30 weeks.

By not having a time limit on abortion, Gallagher said, the amendment struck the wrong balance between the rights of the mother and the fetus.

“We can do better,” he said.

Supporters of Proposition 1 said the intent was simply to preserve the status quo. But in various committee hearings, supporters sometimes got confused by their own bill’s language and jumped to an affirmative answer when asked whether the amendment would preserve the effectiveness limit or repeal it.

But doctors involved in drafting the amendment, such as Dr Pratima Gupta, said no mistake had been made: the word efficacy had been omitted on purpose.

“Every pregnancy is unique, and it’s a continuum,” says Gupta, an OB-GYN in San Diego. People come into pregnancy with a range of pre-existing health conditions, including diabetes, anemia, high blood pressure and obesity, she said. They may not have much money or good medical care, including the latest technology. All of these very nuanced factors determine whether an embryo is viable, he says, not some arbitrary number.

“If I see a patient who breaks their bag of water at 23 weeks of pregnancy, that doesn’t mean it’s effective or not effective,” he says, adding that in some cases the fetus can survive preterm labor at this stage but not in others.

Doctors who consulted on the amendment were following the lead of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the leading advisory group for OB-GYNs, which in May removed the term viability from its abortion guidelines. The term has become so politicized that it no longer has any medical meaning, the group said, and whether and when to perform an abortion should be left up to patients and doctors.

Surprisingly, its death Roe v. Wade As noted in that judgment, it freed doctors from the ambiguity of the efficacy framework. Doctors say that if the Supreme Court ends 50 years of constitutional protections for abortion, the court could take away all the flaws in its decisions.

“In a world where there is none RoI think you see California legislators trying to write a kind of blank slate into the law, a good idea of ​​what reproductive autonomy could be and not just. Ro Part 2,” Ziegler said.

Why do women miscarry after pregnancy?

In recent years, at least three other states — Colorado, New Jersey and Vermont — and Washington, D.C., have removed gestational age limits from their abortion laws.

Opponents of abortion argue that if California follows suit, it will be a free-for-all, where women line up for abortions when they are eight months pregnant.

“We have already had abortions up to 24 weeks. Why do we need to push it out? said Jonathan Keller, president and CEO of the California Family Council, a religious nonprofit. “Can’t we say this is a step too far, even for California?”

Research indicates that such a scenario is highly unlikely. Abortions at or after 21 weeks represent only 1.2% of all abortions, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And studies show that women’s reasons for seeking an abortion vary at that time, from medical complications that threaten the life of the patient or the fetus to, increasingly, legal and logistical barriers.

“It could be that they are delaying because they have to comply with many restrictions; It could be because they have to travel to get an abortion,” said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. “It could be that they can’t get off work. Or it was an intended pregnancy and something happened.”

Still, even in California, which positions itself as an abortion sanctuary, voters become more uncomfortable with the process of later pregnancy. An August poll found that only 13% of likely voters said they were OK with abortion through the third trimester.

But a different poll found that on the question of protecting abortion rights in general, 71% of California voters said they would vote for Proposition 1.

“The politics of love has changed,” says law professor Ziegler.

With the Supreme Court overturning federal abortion rights and more than half of states banning or attempting to ban the procedure, he said, “these efficacy arguments — which have obviously been compelling for decades — won’t land the same way.”

Polls indicate voters aren’t inclined to nitpick. Ziegler predicted they would accept the ambiguity in Proposition 1 and let the courts sort out the details later.

This story is part of a partnership that includes KQED, NPR and KHN.

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