California voters expected to pass abortion rights measure

The Democratic Party hopes that fight to protect abortion rights will galvanise voters in November’s midterm elections.

Rally for women's rights
Pro-abortion rights demonstrators march in Washington, DC in October. Abortion rights are expected to be an important factor in the US midterm elections [Roberto Schmidt/AFP]

California has started to vote on a ballot measure that would enshrine abortion and contraception rights in the state’s constitution.

Early voting for the November 8 election began in California this week, with polls suggesting that about two-thirds of California voters are in favour of the amendment.

“We know when people are aware that abortion is on the ballot, they’re likely to come out and vote for it,” said Jodi Hicks, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, which supports the measure.

Supporters have said the act will send a message of support for abortion rights at a time when they are under threat across the United States, following the US Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v Wade, a previous case that had established the federal right to an abortion.

The court’s decision in June has already had a substantial impact on the status of abortion rights in the US, with numerous Republican-led states moving to institute restrictive bans.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research group, 66 clinics across 15 states stopped offering abortion care in the first 100 days after the court’s decision.

The future of abortion access is on the ballot in a number of US states including Michigan, Kentucky, and Vermont. The Democratic Party hopes that Republican attacks on abortion rights will spur a backlash in the November midterm elections that will decide control of the US Congress.

Those hopes were galvanised in August, when voters in the state of Kansas, a Republican stronghold, resoundingly voted down a proposed abortion ban.

States like California, a bastion of the Democratic Party, have taken countermeasures to protect what they see as an essential right from a Republican-led crackdown on abortion services.

California has already passed a number of laws meant to protect people who come to the state seeking abortion procedures, touting itself as a sanctuary for those seeking abortions.

The ballot measure, known as Proposition One, would declare that the state “shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions, which includes their fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and their fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives”.

California’s Republican Party has largely resigned itself to the measure’s likely passage and has expended few resources to contest it.

Under California law, abortions are permitted up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions allowed later under circumstances where the life of the mother may be endangered.

A September survey by the Public Policy Institute of California suggested that 69 percent of likely voters would support the proposition, with 40 percent of likely “yes” voters saying abortion should be legal in most, but not all, circumstances.

While the measure is likely to pass, some have questioned its practical impact: The state is considered a stronghold of abortion rights, and a constitutional amendment would be nullified if the Republican Party pushed through an abortion ban on the federal level.

“California can pass law after law after law,” said Donna Crane, political science lecturer at San Jose State University and Menlo College, “and the federal law will always trump us.”

Source: Al Jazeera, AP