Opinion: Karen Bass wants to be mayor. Don’t mess this up, L.A.

Rep. Karen Bass speaks to supporters at her mayoral campaign kickoff at Los Angeles Trade Tech College on Oct. 16, 2021.
Rep. Karen Bass speaks to supporters at her mayoral campaign kickoff at Los Angeles Trade Tech College on Oct. 16, 2021.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, May 7, 2022. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

You might have heard that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to strike down Roe vs. Wade in a way that could lead to the evisceration of hard-won personal liberties beyond the right to an abortion; we’ll get to that later (with a look back to history too). We begin, instead, with something Los Angeles hasn’t had in nine years: an open race for mayor, one that in the view of The Times’ editorial board has a candidate who stands far above the others.

That candidate is Karen Bass.


The Democratic member of Congress occasionally draws some attention outside her Los Angeles district, but aside from some veepstakes handicapping in 2020, Bass has seldom been a household name. Don’t take that as a criticism, because in my view Bass possesses that rare combination of unflappable competence and deep humility and compassion. The editorial board’s unequivocal endorsement cites numerous examples of her ability both to build consensus between fractious sides (her brokering as state Assembly speaker of a budget plan addressing a severe financial crisis in California garnered her a 2010 Profile in Courage Award) without abandoning the people who need government services the most. In Congress, her work on landmark child welfare policy reform in 2018 went largely unrecognized, a selfless and intentional move that allowed its implementation under a petty and hyper-partisan Republican president.

You can see how these traits would serve us well in Los Angeles, where intractable problems like homelessness, public safety and housing unaffordability flourish under the stewardship of vainglorious, tribal leadership.

Frankly, when then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden passed on Bass in favor of Kamala Harris, my personal reaction was that the future president’s loss would be Los Angeles’ gain when she runs for mayor. I don’t sit on our editorial board, so I had no say on this endorsement. I think I can put my feelings on this mayoral race a little less diplomatically than my editorial writer colleagues: Bass’ candidacy presents a golden opportunity for Los Angeles that voters would be seriously mistaken to miss. In other words, don’t mess this up, L.A.

For the editorial board’s other endorsements in the June 7 primary, visit So far, the board has made the following recommendations:

L.A. city controller: Kenneth Mejia
L.A. City Council District 5: Katy Young Yaroslavsky
L.A. City Council District 7: Monica Rodriguez
L.A. City Council District 15: Danielle Sandoval
L.A. County assessor: Jeffrey Prang
LAUSD Board District 2: Maria Brenes
LAUSD Board District 4: Nick Melvoin
LAUSD Board District 6: Kelly Gonez
Governor: Gavin Newsom
Attorney general: Rob Bonta
State controller: Lanhee Chen
Insurance commissioner: Marc Levine

Rep. Karen Bass speaks to supporters at her mayoral campaign kickoff
Rep. Karen Bass speaks to supporters at her mayoral campaign kickoff at Los Angeles Trade Tech College on Oct. 16, 2021.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

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The Supreme Court is poised to strike down Roe vs. Wade, so we need to make our voices heard, now, on a right that most Americans do not find controversial but are about to lose. Says the editorial board: “[Justice Samuel A.] Alito got one thing right in his draft when he wrote that ‘women are not without electoral or political power’ when it comes to abortion laws, though that’s not a good reason for getting rid of a constitutionally protected right. It’s time for them to use it to stand up to the elected officials who support curtailing their constitutional rights. It’s time for everyone who cares about individual rights to see this draft ruling as a call to action.” L.A. Times

Alito’s leaked opinion is right-wing orthodoxy masquerading as law. Alito wrote that Roe “enflamed debate and deepened division.” UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky is having none of that: “Every aspect of this statement is wrong. The reasoning of Roe, a 7-2 decision that was repeatedly reaffirmed by the court, was not weak. For decades before Roe, the Supreme Court held that the liberty of the due process clause protected fundamental aspects of privacy and autonomy. Prior to Roe, the court had protected liberties such as the right to marry, the right to procreate, the right to use contraception, the right to control the upbringing of children and the right of every person to choose ‘whether to bear or beget a child.’ ” L.A. Times

She had an illegal abortion and a legal one. The difference was huge. We can only hope we’re not heading back to the pre-Roe days with experiences like that of Joan Steinau Lester in the 1960s: “For days I continued to hemorrhage, losing big red chunks of tissue. Finally it stopped and, since we were breaking up anyway, I soon left for a Catskills summer camp job. For the next few weeks cramps kept me awake each night, until finally the pain was so strong I hitched a ride to the nearest hospital and staggered into the emergency room. When I told the attending doctor about the abortion, he thundered, ‘Your pain is God’s punishment. And you will never have children! Your tubes are sealed.’ It turned out I had severe pelvic infection, with high fever, because the aborting doctor had not ensured a sterile environment. For many miserable days I lay recovering in the hospital, where the admitting doctor took every opportunity to scold me for my sin.” L.A. Times

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I’d like to do something unusual here, but I think this sadly historic occasion warrants it: I am going to reproduce, in full, The Times’ first full editorial reacting to the decision in Roe vs. Wade, published on Jan. 23, 1973. Reading this editorial from nearly 50 years ago, you get little sense that the issue would go on to dominate the culture war well into the next century. Instead, the issue of guaranteeing a right to abortion comes across as legally complex but wholly uncontroversial. It’s as if what’s changed since 1973 is our politics and nothing about abortion or the right of privacy guaranteeing our access to it. Here’s the editorial, in full:

The U.S. Supreme Court has virtually erased current state restrictions on abortions. It is a sensible decision, persuasive by both its historical and legal arguments.

A woman and her personal physician now have unrestricted discretion as to whether a pregnancy should be aborted in the first three months. States may impose restrictions deemed necessary to protect the health of the mother for the period after the initial three months. And, once the fetus is medically viable, usually 28 weeks after conception, further restrictions or an absolute prohibition of abortions may be invoked by states except when the “preservation of the life or health of the mother” is jeopardized.

Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote the majority decision, with Justices Byron R. White and William H. Rehnquist dissenting. Their dissent asserted that the matter should be left to the legislatures of the states, that the right of abortion is not protected by the Constitution.

But the seven-member court majority was convinced that the constitutional right of privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

Furthermore, the court found that states could not justify their intrusion into this matter on grounds of public health because modern abortion procedures are reasonably safe when done early in a pregnancy.


The court acknowledged its inability to resolve a question that has perplexed mankind: When does a life begin? The court chose, instead, to fortify the legal practice of extending an individual his legal rights at birth.

This had the effect of rejecting the arguments of abortion opponents who have based their case on the assertion of constitutional rights of the fetus. The state, under this decision, has only restricted rights to intervene in behalf of the fetus at that point when the fetus is viable — that is, when survival outside the mother is possible. But the health and safety of the mother are made paramount. This, it seems to us, is a sensible distinction. In fact, to argue otherwise is to create a situation of such ambiguity as to deny the possibility of all abortions.

Justice Blackmun’s decision takes account of the history of the problem for two millennia. It is particularly noteworthy that his research found that efforts to control and restrict abortions are a novelty, started for the most part in the 19th century.

The decision will not satisfy those who had argued that the mother should make the decision. It insists that the decision be made with the personal physician. And it permits the states to establish professional standards for those carrying out the abortion procedures, including those done in the first three months.

The impact of the decision in California will be minimal. The California Supreme Court, in a constructive decision last November, had struck down some of the more restrictive elements of the 1967 Therapeutic Abortion Act. But the decision will have profound effect in 30 states that now consider abortion a crime except when done to save a mother’s life, and in 15 other states where abortions are highly restricted. Only in Alaska, Hawaii, New York and Washington, where abortion is largely unrestricted, will there be no impact.

The disparity between the state laws had, in itself, been an injustice, for the result was that abortion was available universally only to those who lived in or could afford to travel to a state where it was permitted. The woman who brought the case in Texas gave birth before her case was won.


It is obvious that the best way to handle unwanted pregnancies is to prevent them. Abortions are for many, immoral, but there is nothing in this decision to force the unwilling to submit to the procedure. More important is the right of privacy, which surely must include protection from unreasonable intrusions by government in private matters.

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