California Christian groups fight post-Roe measures to expand abortion rights

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(RNS) — Religious anti-abortion advocates in California may be celebrating the end of Roe v. Wade, but they face a push by their government to expand abortion access, even as other states enact bans on the procedure.

On the day the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, Gov. Gavin Newsom, signed a bill shielding abortion patients and providers from civil liabilities imposed by other states.

A package of other bills seeking to make California an “abortion sanctuary” is also moving through the legislature in Sacramento, including a measure that would enhance privacy protections for abortion related medical records. In November California voters will decide whether to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution.

In response, anti-abortion religious organizations such as the California Catholic Conference and the California Family Council are mobilizing their followers to stand against these efforts in a state where, according to a recent poll, nearly 80% of adults didn’t want Roe overturned. 

Anti-abortion activists are rallying behind the state’s pregnancy resource centers and calling on residents to vote against the constitutional amendment on abortion, which, they say, is too broad and could allow late-term abortions. California law permits abortions up until fetal viability and allows a physician’s “good faith medical judgement” to determine when a fetus is considered viable.


RELATED: Religious leaders in Los Angeles talk abortion rights with Vice President Kamala Harris


The California Family Council, a nonprofit aiming to advance “God’s design for life, family and liberty,” said “pro-lifers should prepare to face more persecution than ever before,” as they “enter a new phase of the fight for life.”

Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, has called on Catholics to recognize this as “our moment.” Acknowledging California as a “deep blue state,” Domingo said they had no illusion “that we were going to have any different outcome.”

“So many of us have worked for a large part of our lives to see Roe end and then to realize that as Roe is ending, in response California is increasing abortion — that is very difficult,” Domingo told Religion News Service. 

Other faith leaders have publicly supported abortion rights. In early June, a multifaith group from California including Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders met with Vice President Kamala Harris in Los Angeles.

Richard Flory, senior director of research and evaluation at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, said that while evangelicals are a “shrinking part of the population” and the Catholic establishment show signs “out of step with their membership,” their efforts are “not going to go away.”

“They thrive on opposition … that people are against them for their beliefs,” Flory said. “Even though they made this huge victory, they’re not framing it as a victory.”

Flory pointed to the institutional religious power still wielded by the Catholic health systems affiliated with hospitals across the country. Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Orange County, California, recently disaffiliated from Providence, a Catholic health system, filing a lawsuit to terminate the affiliation — a move supported by healthcare providers concerned that the partnership resulted in a “denial of basic reproductive rights.”

Demonstrators rally to demand continued access to abortion during the March for Reproductive Justice, Oct. 2, 2021, in downtown Los Angeles. On Dec. 8, 2021, a group of abortion providers and advocacy groups recommended that California use public money to bring people to California from other states for abortion services should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. The report has the backing of key legislative leaders, including Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a Democrat. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, file)

Demonstrators rally to demand continued access to abortion during the March for Reproductive Justice, Oct. 2, 2021, in downtown Los Angeles. On Dec. 8, 2021, a group of abortion providers and advocacy groups recommended that California use public money to bring people to California from other states for abortion services should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. The report has the backing of key legislative leaders, including Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a Democrat. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, file)

A big push for the California Catholic Conference — which represents and lobbies for the state’s Catholic bishops — has been to unite the various pregnancy centers across the state.

Domingo said they are working with the nonprofit Options United, which “uses online strategies to assist women and families with unplanned pregnancy,” to direct people to their dedicated site to help people search for the closest pregnancy center near them. The California Catholic Conference promotes their services through their parishes and schools.

“We recognize the need now more than ever, especially as women from out of state may come to California for abortion. They may feel that’s their only choice,” Domingo said. “We want to make sure that they can find resources that might give them a different option.”

The conference launched the “We Were Born Ready” campaign to mobilize “Catholics to fulfill their baptismal call to serve women, children, and families” in preparation for the overturning of Roe.

The forum’s website includes information about paid family leave, lactation and Title IX rights. It steers Catholics to donate to their local pregnancy centers and to rental assistance and voucher funds through Catholic Charities and encourages them to create parish meal trains for new moms. 

The website also highlights the pieces of legislation that Catholics should support to expand paid family leave and eligibility for the state welfare program.

It notes bills that Catholics should stand against a bill that would create a working group to examine root causes of sexual health inequities in the state and another that would establish a corps to recruit a diverse workforce of reproductive health care professionals. The conference said these bills would lead to more abortion access.

To Domingo, it’s about standing for “prenatal justice.”

“We believe … pre-born children are members of the human community, they’re just developing,” Domingo said. “There is no more vulnerable population than pre-born children who truly cannot speak or act on their own behalf.”

Jonathan Keller, president and CEO of the California Family Council, said a chief goal of the anti-abortion movement will be to increase the number of pregnancy centers, calling them the “last line of defense before a woman decides whether or not she’s going to have an abortion.”

According to University of California San Francisco Professor Katrina Kimport, pregnancy centers are typically associated with evangelicals or Catholics. She told KCRW in a Tuesday (June 29) segment that these centers, which are also referred to as crisis pregnancy centers, are “informed by a religious ideology” and said they disseminate “scientifically false information.”

Between now and November, Keller said his organization will be focusing on calling attention to the ballot initiatives and the constitutional amendment on abortion.

“I think what we need to do is actually just educate the public about how extreme California’s new abortion regime would be if we enact this legislation,” he said. 

 

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