New York, California prep to become abortion destinations
Pro-lifers pursue activism outside the political realm
One day after Politico published a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion suggesting the justices were poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, lawmakers in New York announced a new pro-abortion bill. Written by Planned Parenthood, the bill would establish government funding for abortion groups in the state. The same day, lawmakers in California pressed for a constitutional amendment to establish abortion as a state right.
Even before the leak, the two states had set themselves up as abortion destinations—enacting measures to ensure broad abortion access in the event of a Roe reversal. As legislative avenues for protecting unborn life in New York and California continue to shrink, pro-lifers there are doubling down on education and compassionate care.
New York lawmakers last week also floated the idea of an abortion-endorsing constitutional amendment. Today, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the Department of Health would earmark $25 million to financially support abortion businesses in the state, and she directed the Division of Criminal Justice Services to put $10 million toward increasing security at abortion facilities.
In 1970, New York and California together accounted for almost 81 percent of all reported abortions in the United States. That year, the New York Legislature legalized abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and became an abortion destination in the country: By 1972, out-of-state women accounted for almost 61 percent of abortions in the state, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
“Everybody’s getting the feeling that that’s probably what would happen again,” said Will Babarczy, the director of four Albany-area pregnancy centers. According to the latest CDC report, fewer than 9 percent of New York abortions in 2019 were performed on out-of-state residents. But Babarczy attended a conference in Syracuse in late April where national pro-life leaders warned New York pregnancy centers to prepare for that percentage to increase and for many of those out-of-state women to end up at their centers as other states enact more protections for the unborn.
In 2019, New York adopted a law that defined abortion as a right, allowed it up to birth in some cases, and removed it from the criminal code.
“That rocked us,” he said. Babarczy said the act was a big reason why his pregnancy centers introduced medical staff and started providing ultrasounds. The law encouraged other pregnancy centers and churches in the state to shore up practical support for pregnant mothers.
“Thanks to that … we’re in a much better place than we would have been,” said Babarczy. As he prepares for the possible reversal of Roe, his primary goal is to recruit more volunteer nurses so his centers can increase their ultrasound appointments.
Babarczy said the leaked draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito prompted some local pastors and churches in New York to contact his pregnancy centers to see how they can help prepare for more changes. While pro-life voices are in the minority in New York, he’s encouraged by the support he feels from the community, and he thinks the help from pro-lifers outside of the state will increase as the abortion issue becomes more intense in New York.
Even the willingness of national pro-life leaders to come speak at the April conference in New York showed him how the movement already recognizes the seriousness of the situation. “New York has been in people’s hearts,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that if New York becomes a destination for abortions, outside pro-life organizations and people will be having our back.”
California was also already set up as an abortion destination in a possible post-Roe future. The California Supreme Court in a 1981 ruling that required MediCal to pay for abortions also declared a right to abortion in the state constitution. Pro-abortion laws have thrived under that ruling: This year alone, lawmakers introduced 13 pro-abortion bills based on recommendations from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Future of Abortion Council. They include measures to fund abortions and legislation that pro-life groups fear would lead to decriminalizing infanticide.
Despite the 1981 ruling and the lack of significant pro-life political opposition in the state, lawmakers last week announced an amendment proposal to make abortion an explicit right in the California Constitution. To get the amendment on the November ballot, both chambers of the California Legislature will have to pass the resolution with a two-thirds supermajority by June—a feat that shouldn’t be difficult, given the three-fourths of state lawmakers with pro-abortion views.
If the amendment does make it before voters, they’re likely to support it, as well. John Gerardi, executive director of Right to Life of Central California, said the ultimate result would depend on the language of the amendment, which lawmakers have not yet released. If the language speaks more generally of ensuring the availability of abortion rather than specifying what types of abortions would be allowed, Gerardi said he would expect a majority of Californians to support it.
Although discouraging, that wouldn’t be the end of pro-life work in the state. “I’m sure … Right to Life of Alabama would be a bit more fun,” Gerardi joked as he reflected on the legislative discouragements California pro-life groups like his have faced in recent years. But because of that, his group has already shifted away from its former focus on politics to emphasize outreach and education.
The organization in 2017 started a radio show to provide pro-life news updates and in January partnered with a pregnancy center affiliate group to open a medical center in Fresno. Right to Life of Central California also puts on educational presentations at churches and schools and started an outreach center for sidewalk counselors in a building next to a Fresno Planned Parenthood. The individual connections the group has made with women who decide to keep their babies, he said, “makes it all worth it.”
Other pro-life groups in the state agree that the key for pro-lifers moving forward in California will be to educate everyday people about the reality of abortion. “I think where change is going to happen is on a person-to-person basis,” said Mary Rose Short, director of outreach at California Right to Life. Short said she’s seen people change their minds about abortion when she tells them the facts or shows them an image of an aborted baby, “even in a wild and crazy state like California.”
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