Abortion Debate Shows How California Politics Has Changed

People often ask me how things have changed at the California Capitol over the past 60 years. One answer: politics today is much more partisan.

A striking example is abortion.

This is true for many issues. More lawmakers were used to thinking for themselves and not being so beholden to party dogma.

Today, abortion is front and center again after it was announced last month that the US Supreme Court was set to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized pregnancy terminations. in all the countries.

In Sacramento, there was political play by Democrats and partisan rote voting from both parties.

It’s in stark contrast to 55 years ago this month, when the Democratic-controlled legislature narrowly passed and new Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the nation’s most liberal abortion law into law. .

Party politics was not a factor. Whether a lawmaker is a Democrat or a Republican doesn’t matter about abortion. Legislators were divided by religion. Protestants generally supported the bill and Catholics opposed it.

The fledgling governor, a Protestant, was torn by conflicting advice and moral disputes. George Steffes, who lobbied the legislature for Reagan, remembers when he pledged to sign the bill.

The author, Democratic Senator Tony Beilenson of Beverly Hills, was invited to Reagan’s office to present his proposal.

“At the end,” Steffes told me, “Reagan said, ‘Tony, I disagree with you. But most lawmakers voted for it. Republican leaders voted for it and I asked to sign it, and I will sign it.

“It’s one of the great examples of how Reagan was willing to listen to everyone,” said Steffes, who attended the meeting. “He didn’t close his mind because the bill came from MPs of the other party.”

In this case, the support was bipartisan – and so was the opposition.

The Assembly jockey was Republican Craig Biddle of Riverside. Republican House Leader Robert Monagan supported him. A key Senate committee vote was cast by the Republican president. Future Republican Governor George Deukmejian voted “yes” in the Senate, where the measure passed without a vote in reserve.

Catholic Democrats, including ultra-liberal Congressman John Vasconcellos of San Jose, strongly opposed the bill.

Skip to Monday, when the Senate voted to place a measure on the November ballot to amend the California Constitution with a specific guarantee for abortion rights in that state.

He needed a two-thirds majority vote, 27. It rose to 29 to 8. All “yes” votes came from Democrats and all “no” votes came from Republicans. The measure was transmitted to the Assembly, where passage was practically assured.

One of the reasons the GOP has fallen into insignificance in Sacramento is its stubborn opposition to social issues such as abortion.

Compare the current Republican gubernatorial contender with Reagan and two later GOP governors, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both were in favor of the right to abortion. And that’s one of the reasons Wilson was elected in 1990.

Senate Leader Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, the author of the constitutional amendment, acknowledged the politicization in an interview, though she insisted that was not her motive.

While her measure has absolutely no effect on California’s current abortion rights — they’re strong — she worries that future federal courts, if not a governor and legislature, will weaken the state’s protective law. . A state constitutional amendment would prevent federal tampering, she believes.

A recent UC San Diego poll showed that the abortion ballot measure could increase turnout for independent voters by nearly seven percentage points, and about the same amount for women of childbearing age. procreate.

Voters’ endorsement of the ballot measure would be a strong voice for abortion rights.

That’s one thing that hasn’t changed in the past half-century: California’s voice has been shouted across America. Unfortunately, he now has more than one political ring.

George Skelton is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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