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SLO rallies in support of abortion rights, Legislature plans constitutional amendment

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Extraordinary sounds blared from an unusually colorful San Luis Obispo Courthouse Annex less than 24 hours after a draft majority opinion of the Supreme Court on overturning Roe v. Wade leaked and rocked the country.

"What do you do when abortion is under attack?" community organizer Quinn Brady cried into a microphone.

"Stand up, fight back!" hollered an eclectic crowd.

OUTCRY Hundreds of San Luis Obispo residents gathered in front of the Superior Court to rally for reproductive rights on May 3. - PHOTO BY BULBUL RAJAGOPAL
  • Photo By Bulbul Rajagopal
  • OUTCRY Hundreds of San Luis Obispo residents gathered in front of the Superior Court to rally for reproductive rights on May 3.

Hundreds of San Luis Obispo residents rallied in front of the courthouse on May 3 to protest a draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and leaked to Politico. The 98-page document showed the majority of the court not only wanted to overturn the 1973 decision that assured federal constitutional protection of abortion rights, but also the subsequent 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey maintaining that right. Politico broke the story on May 2.

"Last night's leak revealed that our deepest fears are coming true," announced Reese Galido, a board member of Planned Parenthood Central Coast. "Thirty-six million women plus people who can become pregnant could soon lose their rights and access to abortion. That's not even the end goal of the anti-abortion movement. They said it this week, their ultimate goal is to pass a nationwide abortion ban that would block abortion access in every state in this country, and we cannot let that happen."

Fellow board member Jason Wells joined Galido as one of the handful of community activists who spoke at the rally. He told the crowd that Planned Parenthood would ramp up services to meet the needs of people in California and beyond if abortion gets outlawed in many states across the U.S.

"If the 26 states that are likely to ban abortion do so, the percentage of people who could become pregnant, who would find their nearest abortion clinic here in California would increase 2,900 percent—from 46,000 people to 1.4 million people," he said. "At Planned Parenthood, we're hiring more nurses, more doctors, and expanding our health centers to ensure we can provide as much care as we can to as many people as possible."

While the SLO rally was in full swing, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared his plan to amend the California Constitution to protect abortion services and the right to choose. State Sen. John Laird (D-Carmel) is all for it.

"When I was in the state Assembly [27th District], there was a more modern abortion law, but we felt a constitutional amendment would be stronger," Laird told New Times.

He is referring to the 2002 Reproductive Privacy Act authored by then LA state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (now an LA County supervisor). Laird said that changes to the state constitution require voter approval. So, legislators are racing to write the amendment to meet the June 30 deadline to qualify it for the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Laird also belongs to a slew of committees like the Appropriations Committee and Budget and Fiscal Review. He expressed his support for committing more funds to the fight for reproductive rights, but noted that the details can't be finalized until Newsom releases his proposed budget this month. The budget is predicted to include $68 billion in surplus funds.

The senator told New Times that in the 1980s, "Planned Parenthood was one of the few who stood by me," at the height of the AIDS epidemic when he served on the Santa Cruz City Council and as the city's openly gay mayor. A potential overturning of Roe v. Wade poses a "serious worry," Laird said, because other rulings like the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision recognizing same-sex marriage are also in danger of being flipped.

At SLO's rally, organizers stressed the importance of voting in smaller-scale elections.

The SLO County Democratic Party's blue tent shaded the grassy knoll next to the courthouse. SLO Democratic Party Chair Rita Casaverde told New Times that they received a wave of support from attendees in terms of volunteering, running for office, and accessing more resources.

"We filled out our sign-up sheets, so it was more than 50 people. We had to start adding them through our phones. We also had sign-ups through our website and donations sent our way," she said.

Casaverde—along with representatives from Gala Pride and Diversity Center, and Lumina Alliance—said that the potential common law change on abortions could disproportionately impact marginalized groups.

"We know that the most affected if Roe v. Wade is overturned are going to be women of color. We know that based on data, and the conservative majority knows that as well. We also know that 60 percent of women who get abortions are moms," Casaverde said. "We already have enough inequality in our country. ... Every single election matters, every single election has consequences." Δ

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