A brief history of abortion in California

Jaclyn HakeBlog

How did California become a pro-choice state?

In 2022, California is looked at as a pro-choice state with the dreams of Governor Gavin Newsom to turn it into an abortion sanctuary. However, California wasn’t always a pro-choice state. How did it get there? The 1960s were a transformative decade for abortion in California reaching it’s pivotal point in 1967 when then governor Ronald Reagan, yes that Ronald Reagan who is regarded as one of the most pro-life presidents in American history, signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act into law.

Fear of birth defects during pregnancy

The widespread fear of pregnancy started when the effects of the drug Thalidomide came to light. In the 1950s and 1960s clincal trials were done on 20,000 Americans. Several hundred of those participating in the trials were pregnant. It was many years after the start of the trials that people were starting to put together the severe birth defects of being born with deformed limbs or the absence of them and taking the drug during pregnancy. A warning was issued by president John F. Kennedy in 1962 that no woman should take the drug. Other countries outside of the United States were affected much worse as the drug originated in Germany, thousands of babies were born with severe birth defects. It was reported that 17 babies in the United States were born with severe birth defects after using the drug during pregnancy. However, this number is believed by some to be incorrect and that it was much higher. The mishandling of this drug which was marketed as a way to combat morning sickness in pregnant women is regarded as one of the largest manmade medical disastors.

The 1964-65 Rubella Epidemic

Another fear came over Americans less than two years later in 1964-1965 and that was the Rubella epidemic. Congenital Rubella Syndrom (CRS) can occur in infants who were exposed in utero after a maternal infection. The effects of CRS can be devestating ranging from cateracts to hypotonia. Rubella during pregnancy can also cause miscarriages or stillbirth. During the Rubella epidemic 11,000 babies were miscarried, 2,100 newborns died, and 20,000 were born with CRS. Although this was a tragic occurance it accounted for much less than 1% of the total pregnancies over the two years of the epidemic. So, yes the children and families affected is heartbreaking but the fear of Rubella accounting for an increase of abortions was unnecesary.

The Therapeutic Abortion Act

In response to the fear of pregnancy from many Californians the Therapeutic Abortion Act was signed into law. During a news conference a few weeks before the signing Ronald Reagan defended his stance on allowing some abortions while also making statements in defense of the preborn. He states that protecting the mother’s life justifies abortion whereas allowing abortion because the baby is less than perfect is on par with Hitler. The Therapeutic Abortion Act allowed mothers to obtain an abortion if her life was in danger physically or mentally. This opened up a crack which led California to being pro-choice and left much to be decided on how a mother was in danger physically or mentally. Now, we know that abortions are never medically necessary and in fact can be more dangerous for a mother. If you would like a more in depth explanation on why abortion is never medically necessary and can be more dangerous for a mother, please read  here.

The 1967 law was campaigned as making only 2% of abortions legal–“a small and neccesary percentage”. I disagree, even 2% is too many abortions for California. Today it is estimated that almost 27% of pregnancies end in abortion within California. This number is expected to grow much higher with recent legislation being introduced to protect the so-called right to abortion. In November, California voters will vote to enshrine the right to abortion up until the moment of birth into law. If Prop 1 is passed it will be the most radical abortion law in California.

Closing Thoughts

Californians are again at a pivotal point to decide California’s stance on abortion. The Therapeutic Abortion Act changed California into a pro-choice state. What will Prop 1 do for California? Governor Gavin Newsom has already expressed his goal of making his state a safe haven for any American seeking an abortion so this is a likely path that will follow if it passes. Will it stop there? What could be next? A bill allowing infanticide for the comfort and care of a newborn who is deemed unfit for life?

Or what if Prop 1 doesn’t pass? This could be the pivotal point in California’s legislation of turning the state into one that respects and values life instead of destroying it.