Robin Abcarian Commentary, news and analysis

A proposed California license plate is a subtle nod to abortion rights and to a slain hero

Here in California, it’s easy to feel complacent about rights we’ve already won, especially access to legal abortion.

Don’t relax just yet.

President Trump has nominated a Supreme Court justice who could very well endanger Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that gave American women power over their own reproductive fates.

He has also vowed to defund Planned Parenthood, which could have devastating consequences for the nearly 1 million California women who receive healthcare from this American institution.

As my colleague Melanie Mason reported, Planned Parenthood’s California affiliates receive about $260 million from the federal government, mostly in the form of Medicaid reimbursements. Exactly none of the money is (or can be) spent on abortion services. Still, Planned Parenthood remains the bête noire and rallying cry for those who — lo these many years after Roe — simply cannot bring themselves to accept that abortion is a constitutional right. If I may borrow an overexposed word, sad!

But California politicians have been seeking creative ways to resist.

Last month, Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara proposed a new license plate, whose proceeds would be dedicated to comprehensive family planning services for low-income men and women, including teenagers and immigrants in the country illegally, the very people who stand to lose so much if Planned Parenthood loses its federal money.

The plates, which would be the subject of a design contest, would say “California Trusts Women.”

“Frankly, this is something the government should protect,” said Jackson, who authored the nation’s strongest equal pay law in 2015. “Reproductive choice is a fundamental right that’s been reaffirmed in the courts since Roe vs. Wade. This is not just about abortion services.” It’s also about breast exams, Pap smears, contraception, preventive cancer screening and yes, prenatal care.

Sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice California, the plate would take its place alongside those celebrating and raising money for the California Coastal Commission, the state Arts Council, firefighters, pet lovers, Yosemite and colleges (only available now for UCLA — sorry Cal).

“God, I love California,” said Susan Robinson, a retired abortion doctor who lives in Paso Robles, when I called her to chat about the plate. “I’m so glad I live in this state. It’s almost like we’ve seceded.”

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Jackson’s bill is at the beginning of its legislative path, so it will be a while before the plates could become reality .

Once the bill passes and is signed into law, at least 7,500 drivers would have to buy the $50 plates in order for production to start.

There might be some opposition, but Planned Parenthood and abortion rights are popular in California, where voters picked the outspokenly pro-choice Hillary Clinton over Trump by a 2-1 margin, so Jackson is optimistic about the program. “I believe we’ll see a significant number of people step forward.”

Though we like to think of ourselves as reproductive rights pioneers, in truth Virginia is the first state to come up with a pro-choice license plate: “Trust Women, Respect Choice.”

It was a response to the state’s anti-abortion “Choose Life” license plate, which funds “crisis pregnancy centers,” clinics that often mislead women about the services they offer.

In Virginia, the proceeds from “Trust Women” plates will support the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood. They may not be used to provide abortion services.

Fortunately, there is no such restriction in Jackson’s proposed bill.

California, no surprise here, is among the handful of states that do not offer “Choose Life” plates.

“In California, we are pro-choice, in our laws and in our Constitution,” said Jackson, “and that’s the message that will be expressed here on behalf of the government.”

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Among reproductive rights advocates, the phrase “trust women” is something of a secret handshake.

It was a motto of George Tiller, the late-term abortion doctor who was murdered by a Christian extremist in the vestibule of his Wichita, Kan., church in 2009.

At Tiller’s memorial service, a large wreath with the message “Trust Women” sat next to a framed photograph of the doctor, who had been the unrelenting target of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who told viewers that Tiller “destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000.”

Tiller, whose clinic was firebombed and who had also been shot in both arms by an anti-abortion activist in 1993, refused to be terrorized into abandoning his perfectly legal practice.

“He would always say women are emotionally and intellectually and spiritually capable of wrestling with complex ethical issues and arriving at the right decision for them and their families,” said Robinson, who used to fly into Kansas to work at Tiller’s clinic. “But that doesn’t fit on a license plate.”

“He’s one of my personal heroes,” said attorney Gloria Allred, who stood on the sidewalk outside Tiller’s funeral with dozens of other women to shield his family from protesters, including members of the ubiquitous Westboro Baptist Church.

For her outspoken support of reproductive rights, Allred has often been a target of anti-abortion harassment, as recently as last week in Santa Monica.

Thursday night, she said, at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser at Barker Hangar, she was accosted by a man who told her, “I’m glad you liberals believe in abortion, because that means there will be fewer liberals.”

Allred, who does not back down from a fight (she is representing clients who are suing President Trump on defamation allegations and Bill Cosby on allegations of sexual assault), followed the man to see if he was a paying guest or a crasher. Apparently, he was a crasher, she said, and was escorted off the premises by three police officers.

She told me she owns a trio of older-model cars. She plans to buy “California Trusts Women” plates for all three.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

Twitter: @AbcarianLAT

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