Democrats say abortion is at stake in recall elections. But canceling the rights would not be easy

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – As an election approaches to remove California Governor Gavin Newsom, abortion rights groups are warning Californians’ abortion rights are on the ballot.

Newsom, a democrat, himself tweeted that “access to abortion” is at stake.

“There is no doubt that if a Republican is elected, access to abortion in California will be restricted,” Jodi Hicks, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said at a press conference in July.

But that message is strategic and is more about motivating left-wing voters than politics, said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political strategist.

“There is no indication in the polls for this election that [abortion] is what Californians think of this election at all, ”Stutzman said. “It fits the type of campaign they’re running, which isn’t persuasion; it’s a motivation to participate. “

In reality, California has some of the strongest abortion protections in the country and restricting them would be difficult to accomplish for a replacement governor with only a little over a year remaining in office, with the opposition of one. predominantly democratic legislature – and the right to abortion enshrined in the state constitution.

While governors could veto legislation, set budget priorities, and enact regulations through state agencies, only small-scale changes would be possible and would almost exclusively affect women on Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid insurance program for low-income people.

“I don’t think abortion is going to be severely restricted in California,” said Laurie Sobel, associate director of women’s health policy for KFF. “It’s more subtle than just slashing the laws that are in place – it doesn’t support” the new progressive laws.

Restrictions enacted by other states – such as laws that require ultrasound scans before abortions or regulations that make it difficult to open abortion clinics – likely wouldn’t apply in California without a friendly legislature, a. Sobel said.

Yet reproductive rights groups have described Californians’ right to access abortion as threatened by the September 14 recall election. Newsom appeared with Planned Parenthood executives on Wednesday evening to say that California’s role as the standard-bearer for abortion rights is more important than ever as other states increasingly restrict access and that the United States Supreme Court will decide this year whether to maintain the seminal Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion at the national level.

None of the top four Republican recall candidates responded to calls and emails regarding their positions on abortion.

Larry Elder, a Tory radio host who is the leading replacement contender in most polls, has been most outspoken on the matter. He called abortion “murder” and Roe vs. Wade “one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever.” Businessman John Cox has called himself “pro-life” in previous campaigns, but said he would rather not talk about social issues, and State Assembly Member Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) has received approvals and positive reviews from anti-abortion groups. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has said he supports the right to abortion.

Each registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail, although voters will also have options to vote in person. If Newsom is recalled in the September 14 election, his replacement would take office at the end of October and serve the remainder of Newsom’s tenure, until January 2023. A replacement could run for a regular four-year term in the November 2022 election. .

State law establishes a woman’s right to have an abortion, usually until a fetus can survive on its own. And the state’s constitution includes a right to privacy that the California Supreme Court says protects abortion, even if the US Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade. The state’s Supreme Court also struck down laws that limit abortion or require parental consent. State law requires every state-regulated health plan, public or private, to cover the procedure.

Yet abortion rights advocates argue that having a right doesn’t always mean being able to access treatment, and that an anti-abortion governor might find ways to make the procedure less accessible. Experts say there are three main ways for a replacement governor to restrict access:

  • Vetoing bills or budget items (the governor has veto power over the state budget) would be one of the most direct means. State Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) this year introduced a bill to eliminate cost-sharing of abortion for Medi-Cal patients, who is awaiting a committee hearing before turning return to the Assembly for a final vote. She said she would still have introduced the measure under an anti-abortion administration, but that it would have been an “uphill battle” on all fronts.

Democrats, who have a qualified majority in both houses of the legislature, could override a governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority in both houses. The last time this happened was in 1980.

Susan Arnall, director of outreach and engagement at the Right to Life League, said an anti-abortion governor could help balance the Capitol by vetoing “anti-life” legislation, even if lawmakers end up overriding the veto. “It at least delays things. It slows down the process, and it helps,” she said.

  • Governors have broad power to change the way Medi-Cal, which covers about half of abortions in the state, funds abortion. For example, an anti-abortion governor could work through the Department of Health Services to set Medi-Cal’s reimbursement rates for abortion so low that no doctor could afford to perform the procedure. Or the governor could make the Medi-Cal payment process so difficult that providers wouldn’t care. These bureaucratic hurdles and others could add up, making it more difficult for a person to get an abortion as quickly as they need it, said Fabiola Carrión, acting director of reproductive and sexual health for the National Program of Health. health law. “This is of particular concern to people who live in central California and in rural areas” where patients have to travel long distances to find a provider. “Abortion is already an urgent service.”
  • At the end of the year, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to decide whether mifepristone, a prescription drug used in medical abortions, can continue to be delivered via telemedicine without seeing a provider in person – a service the agency tentatively approved this year. . If the FDA allows the telemedicine option to continue, it will require the state to update its Medi-Cal provider manual. A new governor could install a director in the Department of Health Services who doesn’t update the manual, and people registered with Medi-Cal who want a medical abortion may need to see their provider in person first.

“California already has abortion deserts in our own state,” Hicks said. Even a seemingly small barrier “always matters to someone trying to get services.”

Democratic consultant Rose Kapolczynski said the threat an anti-abortion governor could pose to abortion access is real, no matter how long he or she is in office. Newsom’s replacement is expected to run for office immediately, she said, prompting great things to be done in the first year.

“The Newsom team knows they must do everything in their power to motivate Democrats to send their ballots, and they are talking to these voters about the issues that matter most to them,” Kapolczynski said. “It is completely legitimate to talk about what happens if the recall is successful.”

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an independent editorial service of the California Health Care Foundation.



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