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Democratic candidates for California governor in perfect harmony at debate over abortion rights

Democratic candidates for California governor in perfect harmony at debate over abortion rights
Democratic candidates for California governor Delaine Eastin, from left, Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa and John Chiang speak at a NARAL Pro-Choice California event in San Francisco on Tuesday. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

The Democratic field in California's 2018 governor's race joined in political harmony in favor of abortion rights and the empowerment of women in their third debate in as many weeks Tuesday, a departure from the chippy exchanges seen at previous forums.

The top four Democrats in the race, appearing at a debate sponsored by the abortion-rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice California, also joined together to criticize one of their own, Gov. Jerry Brown.

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The candidates blasted the governor's veto of a bill last year that would have barred employers from firing workers for having an abortion, or giving birth to a child out of wedlock.

"I think this was a terrible decision. It showed a lack of understanding and appreciation of what women go through in this world," said former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, the only woman candidate on the stage. "I think Jerry was dead wrong on this. It was one of the worst decisions he's made."

Eastin joined her Democratic rivals in the race, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang, in saying that she would have signed the legislation.

Chiang, to punctuate his point, noted that the San Diego assemblywoman who sponsored the bill, Democrat Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, endorsed him for governor. It was one of the many attempts by the candidates to differentiate themselves from the others, even though all four aligned on almost every issue.

All agreed that the "morning after" abortion pill should be provided on college campuses; birth control should be allowed to be sold over the counter and without a prescription; and said the state must do more to crack down on "fake" healthcare clinics trying to prevent women from acquiring abortions and other reproductive healthcare.

About 200 people showed up for the 90-minute debate at the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco, a turnout that was probably dampened because the event was held at the same time President Trump delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Unlike the two previous debates held in Los Angeles this month, the forum lacked any big flashpoints or vitriol between the candidates.

Newsom and Villaraigosa previously clashed over enacting a state-sponsored single-payer healthcare system in California. Villaraigosa previously accused Newsom of selling "snake oil" by advocating for an unaffordable program, while Newsom has implied that Villaraigosa lacks the political courage to tackle the vexing problem of healthcare.

The candidates were not directly asked about the issue Tuesday and avoided attacking each other's positions on the subject.

Organizers of the forum said they invited two of the major Republicans in the race, Assemblyman Travis Allen and Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox, but neither responded. Both are staunchly anti-abortion.

The newest GOP candidate in the race, former Sacramento Rep. Doug Ose, said he was not invited.

While serving in Washington, Ose supported abortion rights except for late-term abortion procedures. He was attacked for his abortion record when he ran for Congress, and lost, against conservative Tom McClintock in 2008.

"They didn't invite us. Therefore, we have no comment," Ose said in a statement before the debate.

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Twitter: @philwillon

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