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Watson Seeks to Reaffirm Abortion Rights; Legislative Battle Forecast

Times Staff Writer

Seizing the offensive before anti-abortion lawmakers could act, Sen. Diane Watson called on lawmakers Wednesday to reaffirm California abortion rights in the face of a U.S. Supreme Court decision giving states greater freedom to restrict the procedure.

The resolution by Watson, a Los Angeles Democrat, was the first of what is expected to be a torrent of bills on the issue, despite a longstanding state court ruling that California abortion rights are protected by the state Constitution.

Intense public pressure on the divided Legislature and Gov. George Deukmejian began to mount as soon as the Supreme Court handed down its decision Monday, and the issue is likely to move to the forefront as 100 of the Legislature’s 120 members face the voters in 1990.

Watson’s resolution, if passed by the Senate, would not change California law on abortion. It would state the Senate’s belief in abortion rights based on a right to privacy and express support for publicly provided care for pregnant women and babies. Such care could include drug abuse treatment, child abuse prevention programs, parenting classes and child care.

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Watson said she hopes debate on the resolution will force anti-abortion lawmakers to take a stand on the issue before the next round of elections.

“We will have a bloody battle,” Watson, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said of the years ahead. “It will be very divisive. People will have to stand up and be counted.”

Deadlines for introducing bills this year have already passed, and a rule waiver to do so would require a two-thirds vote. But Watson said she intends to introduce legislation later, probably next year, to update the state’s 22-year-old abortion law. Much of that law was either invalidated by the state courts or not enforced after the Supreme Court’s historic 1973 decision blocking the states from banning abortion.

Abortion foes, meanwhile, said they might seek enforcement of two provisions in the 1967 law that remain on the books. One provision bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and the other requires that all abortions be performed in accredited hospitals.

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“It’s quite intriguing,” said Assemblyman Phillip Wyman (R-Tehachapi), the Assembly Republicans’ lead member on the abortion issue. “I think Sen. Watson and some others are fearful that what was seen as a pro-abortion piece of legislation 20 years ago might be reinvigorated and interfere with the abortion industry.”

Sen. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin) said he expects most of the action to be in the courts, but he suggested that he, too, may introduce legislation before the end of the 1989-1990 session.

“I think there’s some legislation needed,” he said. “I will be looking at all of this, and if there is something that we think is worth discussing, we will put that in a bill and let people vote on it.”

The most recent gauge of the Legislature’s position on abortion was the 1987 passage of a law, now being reviewed by the courts, to require parental consent or a court order before an unwed minor could obtain an abortion in California. That bill passed with 25 affirmative votes in the 40-member Senate and 46 votes in the 80-seat Assembly.

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But Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Los Angeles), one of the staunchest pro-choice advocates in the Legislature, said he is sure his side has the votes to block any further restrictions on abortion. Friedman said he polled Assembly members last week and found a majority of 42 “rock-solid” votes, including three Republicans, to leave the abortion laws as they are today.


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