Dispute over an all-trimester abortion clinic puts California’s image as haven to the test
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade last summer, Beverly Hills officials protested by lighting up the plaza in front of City Hall in a glow of pink.
Council members had already voted 5 to 0 for a resolution backing abortion rights. “We have stood up and spoken out when we’ve seen human rights taken away,” then-Mayor Lili Bosse stated after the vote. “This is something I wholeheartedly support with all my soul.”
But little more than a year later, the affluent city has become a battleground over reproductive rights.
An abortion provider that planned to open a clinic in Beverly Hills offering procedures beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy is alleging that the city “colluded and conspired” with antiabortion activists to force out the clinic. It gave formal notice Monday of damage claims against local officials.
The dispute illustrates that even in the bluest parts of America, abortion rights face serious challenges — especially when it comes to the most controversial procedures.
Clinics that perform abortions later in pregnancy — a service that abortion advocates say is sorely needed in California — find themselves under extreme scrutiny. Although 69% of Americans say abortion should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy, only 22% of respondents in a recent poll said third-trimester abortions should be legal.
DuPont Clinic, a Washington, D.C.-based provider, said it has spent millions of dollars updating the medical facility on Wilshire Boulevard with the goal of expanding to the West Coast. Its letter to the city — a required precursor in California to a lawsuit — alleges that four city officials, including Mayor Julian Gold, acted to withhold permits to the facility after antiabortion protests.
It claims the city — where voters in 2020 chose Joe Biden by 17 percentage points over Donald Trump — pressured the landlord to back out of the lease; held “secret meetings” with members of the group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust and “promised them it would stop DuPont from opening.”
The clinic alleges city officials “bowed to the political pressure of the antiabortion community” instead of protecting “the right to abortion enshrined in the California Constitution.” DuPont is also targeting the landlord, Douglas Emmett Inc., in a separate lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
“It’s disappointing to try to return to California — after so much has been in the news about how the state is ready to help people access abortion — only to discover that the reality is different,” Dr. Matthew Reeves, DuPont’s founder, told the Los Angeles Times.
Beverly Hills officials denied DuPont’s allegations and said rescinding the lease was the landlord’s decision.
“The assertion that the city came to an agreement with protesters to force the clinic out is false,” Deputy City Manager Keith Sterling told The Times on Monday. “The permits were issued after our attorneys confirmed the services to be offered were in compliance with state law. We were anticipating the clinic would open in Beverly Hills later this year.”
California statute restricts abortions after a fetus is viable, at about 24 to 26 weeks of pregnancy, unless the patient’s life or health is in danger. That makes California abortion law more complicated than in the nation’s capital and six states — Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont — with no gestational limits on when abortion is legal.
California joined law firms and advocacy groups to create a hotline that provides information and pro bono services for people who need abortion legal help.
But California’s fetal viability limit is in question, however, after voters in November overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1, adding a right to abortion to the state Constitution, that did not mention the word “viability.” Legal experts say there is little consensus on whether California’s viability standard still holds.
Voters weigh in on Proposition 1, the statewide ballot measure that would add a right to abortion to the California Constitution.
Nationally, 13 clinics perform abortions beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy and only three go beyond 28 weeks, according to Access Reproductive Justice, a California abortion fund that offers patients financial and logistical support. One clinic in the Bay Area goes to 24 weeks, according to the fund, and one in Los Angeles offers abortions at 26.6 weeks, going beyond on a case-by-case base.
“California portrays itself as a safe haven state for all abortion, but in actuality, for people who need third-trimester abortions, there are a lot of obstacles,” said Ushma Upadhyay, a public health social scientist and professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at UC San Francisco.
In the last year, dozens of Californians beyond the 24th week of pregnancy have had to leave the state to access abortion care, according to Access. Some traveled over 2,300 miles to DuPont’s clinic in Washington.
As states across the South and Midwest curtailed abortion after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs vs. Jackson decision, “there was going to be a greater demand, unfortunately, for the care that we provide, which is all-trimester abortion care,” a doctor who was going to work at the Beverly Hills clinic told The Times. The doctor did not want to use her name for safety reasons. “What happens is that people are pushed later and later in their pregnancy in states that have restrictions.”
In a historic reversal, the Supreme Court strikes down a half-century of nationwide abortion rights in the U.S.
Abortions later in pregnancy are rare — fewer than 1% were performed on or after 21 weeks in 2020, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and more controversial.
Even in California, support for abortion is not absolute: In a Public Policy Institute of California poll, 42% of likely voters said it should be legal in all cases and 33% said in most cases.
The doctor who planned to work for DuPont in California said patients seeking later abortions typically face a change of circumstances, including the discovery of fetal anomalies or a medical problem such as cancer, lupus or preeclampsia. A few may not have been aware that they were pregnant.
Expanding to California, DuPont figured, would reduce the weeks-long backlog at the Washington clinic and offer some patients a less onerous journey. Gov. Gavin Newsom has hailed California as a haven for people from out of state, with some of the nation’s strongest protections, including a shield law that helps protect patients and providers from civil liability imposed by other states.
Idaho has made it a crime to transport a minor up to the state line for an out-of-state abortion. Out-of-state providers are right to fear prosecution.
In September 2022, DuPont entered a lease on the Beverly Hills property with Douglas Emmett, a Santa Monica-based real estate investment trust company, to open a clinic much like in Washington, with doulas and dedicated nurses and private rooms with aromatherapy.
“We can’t wait to bring our person-centered model of all-trimester abortion care to the West coast,” the clinic said on Twitter in October.
A few weeks later — as Californians got ready to vote on Proposition 1 — antiabortion activists began to take note. “This is horrifying!” Greg Burt, Capitol engagement director for the California Family Council, wrote to DuPont on Twitter. “Abortion up to the moment of birth. How barbaric.”
DuPont’s Twitter post was bombarded, mostly from anonymous accounts:
“You misspelled eugenics.”
“You absolute ghouls. You will rot in hell.”
DuPont was confident the landlord and city supported abortion rights, its doctors said. There was already a clinic in the Wilshire building and another had historically provided later-trimester procedures. DuPont pressed on, according to its notice to the city, discussing permits and zoning with officials and hiring architects and a general contractor to demolish the old offices and build a new medical suite.
In April, protesters projected “MURDER MILL” on the side of the building on Wilshire. A week later, three spoke at a City Council meeting.
Tasha Barker, a Sacramento paralegal and harp instructor, called in to argue that the clinic was different from others in California because it performed abortions past fetal viability. “Right on their website, it says they’ll perform these abortions for no reason at all.”
“That’s their mission — to offer abortions in the third trimester at will — and most people, whether they be pro-life or pro-choice, agree that that is abhorrent,” Barker said, urging a pause in building permits. “I’m asking you to consider how extreme this clinic is.”
A few days later, DuPont found out the city had suddenly withheld permits for the clinic.
DuPont’s clinic in Washington, D.C., is one of a handful in the nation that specialize in later abortions.
“If you are between 26 weeks and 31 weeks 6 days into your pregnancy, we can still see you, regardless of your medical history, background, or fetal indications,” DuPont’s website states. “We do not require any particular ‘reason’ to be seen here — if you would like to terminate your pregnancy, we support you in that decision.”
But DuPont’s doctors were not sure they could perform abortions in Beverly Hills as late as in Washington. They had not fully worked out the limits of the law with their attorneys, said the doctor who planned to work in the clinic.
“Of course, we were going to be compliant with California law,” she said. “But the question of compliance and how to do that is not a concrete, ‘Just stay below 28 weeks.’”
After protesters raised the issue of gestational age limits with the City Council, DuPont said, Beverly Hills officials began to press for more information.
On April 25, the city attorney told DuPont’s lawyer that he “had some questions” about the building permits, according to the notice letter DuPont filed Monday. Laurence Wiener said the city had concerns, based on language on DuPont’s website, that the clinic intended to “violate state laws” on abortion; he said he would release the permits, but asked for a letter from DuPont.
The city wanted assurance that the clinic would “follow California law, which provides that abortions are not permitted once the fetus is viable, except to protect the health of the mother,” Sterling, the deputy city manager, told The Times.
DuPont’s doctors said they were shocked; the request, they allege in their notice to the city, was “improper” and “discriminatory.”
“We have now reached an impasse in Beverly Hills due to the city attorney refusing to release our building permits, which were approved weeks ago,” DuPont emailed the mayor and other city officials April 27.
DuPont offered to discuss preparations for the clinic, but no one from the city, DuPont alleges, responded to the email. The permits were issued — without DuPont writing the letter.
Meanwhile, DuPont alleges, the city met with representatives from the Douglas Emmett company and asked if there was a way to avoid opening the clinic. According to DuPont, the landlord’s representatives later said city officials became “visibly upset” when told no, that the lease had been signed.
On May 31, Beverly Hills’ chief of police sent DuPont and the landlord a draft of a letter warning the building’s tenants that protesters may “attempt to disrupt business” and there could be “violence or vandalism that requires law enforcement involvement.”
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DuPont contends it was intended to “terrify” tenants and pressure DuPont to leave. The city counters it was an “information letter” offering police contact as protests picked up.
A Douglas Emmett lawyer cited the letter nearly two weeks later when he emailed the clinic that the company would rescind the lease. The notice, copied to the mayor and city manager, instructed DuPont to cease work on the premises.
The real estate company said DuPont had failed to disclose that the “primary focus” of its practice “would be providing abortions for abnormal and high risk pregnancies including what are commonly referred to as late term abortions” or that its Washington clinic had drawn protests. The landlord said it did not learn the “actual scope” of the clinic’s work until it saw the police chief’s draft letter.
DuPont says the company knew exactly what services it intended to offer. Its legal complaint includes a June 2022 letter of intent to Douglas Emmett describing a “private referral center for all-trimester abortion care and ultrasound-guided procedures, primarily for management of abnormal and high-risk pregnancies.”
DuPont’s lawsuit, which includes 10 claims, maintains Douglas Emmett illegally and improperly breached the lease, without offering to compensate DuPont for millions in renovations.
Douglas Emmett declined to respond to the lawsuit Monday morning, with a spokesman stating the company has “a well-established policy of abstaining from discussing leasing matters with external entities.”
As construction halted, protests accelerated.
Small groups — unaware that the company had tried to rescind the lease — gathered outside the Wilshire building, wielding graphic pictures of bloody aborted fetuses. They stood on highway bridges, setting off smoke flares and wielding signs that said, “SHUT DOWN THE DUPONT ABORTION MURDER MILL.”
On July 18, a handful of protesters attended the City Council meeting.
“Unfortunately, DuPont has come into the city and it’s an all-trimester abortion clinic that has caused the dark cloud to creep in and sweep over the city,” Tim Clement, outreach director for Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, told the mayor and council members. “I would like to have a sit-down with you and talk about maybe celebrating rather than protesting.”
More than a week later, Clement said, he and his attorney met the mayor, deputy city manager, city attorney and a detective via Zoom.
“Everything is supposed to be hush — like, I can’t speak about it,” Clement told protesters at a July 29 public rally. “But we came to an agreement.”
Clement read them an email he said he’d received from Sterling, the deputy city manager: “Per our conversation yesterday morning, this email is to confirm that the attorney for the landlord ... has notified the city that DuPont Clinic will no longer be taking occupancy.”
The crowd whooped and cheered.
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“Victories, sometimes they’re not seen in the pro-life movement, but having a statement saying that they’re not setting up shop…” Clement told The Times. “We just saved babies. That’s our goal, because abortion is murder, and killing viable babies is horrifically wrong.”
Now, Clement said, the activists are focusing on protesting a Planned Parenthood clinic set to open this month in Murrieta. “This is why I haven’t left California,” Clement said. “This is where the fight’s at.”
The mayor did not respond to requests for comment. Sterling, one of the officials DuPont alleges acted against the clinic, told The Times before the formal legal notice was filed that city officials met with antiabortion activists, but “there was no agreement.” They informed Clement that the city had been advised the lease was rescinded, he said.
Asked if Beverly Hills remained committed to abortion rights, Sterling said the city stood by its public positions.
“I think where the concern comes is when the line is crossed and the safety of our community is at risk,” Sterling said. “So, while the council supports all the things that they’ve stood for, including a woman’s right to choose, at the end of the day, our No. 1 responsibility is to keep our community safe.”
The doctor who would have worked at the Beverly Hills clinic said no officials voiced opposition to a third-trimester abortion provider in the city. But they showed clear discomfort — after the protests — with DuPont’s website and the services the clinic might provide.
“To me, you’re pro-choice if you act on your values...,” the doctor said. “‘We support abortion rights, but not when there’s going to be a protest?’”
But the doctor has not given up hope that California might follow through on its commitment to reproductive rights — a principle that, she says, includes abortion in the third trimester.
She still wants to open a clinic in the Los Angeles area — though probably not in Beverly Hills.
“A lot of amazing things have been done in California — laws passed, funding created — but none of it means anything if people can’t open clinics and patients can’t be seen,” she said. “If we want to be a haven state and be welcoming people from across the country to come here, then we have to really do that. We have to go all the way.”
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