Proposal to put abortion protections in California Constitution appears headed for victory

Los Angeles, CA, Monday, June 27, 2022 - RiseupforAbortionRights rallies hundreds throughout downtown opposing the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v Wade. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
Hundreds of people rally in downtown Los Angeles in June to demonstrate opposition to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A measure to amend the state Constitution to add protections for abortion rights appears on track for victory this fall as the issue of reproductive rights appears to be strongly motivating the state's voters.

A UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released Wednesday showed 7 in 10 California voters support the proposed constitutional amendment, and majorities back other policies aimed at protecting abortion rights.

Voters' strong convictions on the issue appear likely to bolster election fortunes of Democrats in the state this November.

Eight in 10 voters called abortion an important issue as they decide how to vote in congressional, state and local races this November, with 63% describing the issue as "very important."

Among Democrats, 77% said abortion is "very important" heading into Election Day, according to the poll, which was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. Forty-three percent of Republicans prioritized abortion similarly.

That could have a significant impact on races in the state this fall, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Berkeley poll.

"In terms of turnout and what it might mean for the November election, I do think the abortion issue is a motivator for Democrats and liberal voters to actually turn out in California," DiCamillo said.

California has several closely contested congressional races this year, including contests in northern Los Angeles County, Orange County and the Central Valley. Democrats hope that a high turnout of their supporters will enable them to win some close contests in the state that could offset losses of seats elsewhere in the country.

Abortion won't just be top of mind for many voters, it will also be directly on the ballot. Proposition 1 asks voters to protect a person’s right to an abortion by including it in the state Constitution. The Democratic-controlled state Legislature voted in June to place the proposition on the ballot in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the historic 1973 ruling that gave women nationwide the legal right to choose abortion.

The poll found support for Proposition 1 in all geographic areas of California, with strong approval regardless of age, race or gender.

The one sharp divide on the measure came along partisan lines, with Republican voters opposed, 49% to 35%. Among voters who described themselves as strongly conservative, just 23% approved of the ballot measure, while 66% disapproved and 11% remained undecided.

Overall, however, conservatives are a minority in California — 28% of the state's voters identify that way, with only 12% saying they are very conservative. Voters who identify as liberal or moderate support the proposed amendment by wide margins.

The latest voter registration numbers show that Democrats make up 47% of the state's roughly 22 million registered voters, while Republicans are 24%, barely ahead of nonpartisan voters at 23%.

"Republicans and Democrats hold very different views on the importance of abortion and how they are intending to vote on Proposition 1," DiCamillo said. "Throughout the entire poll, you can see this big chasm between Democrat and Republican responses."

If passed by a majority of voters in November, Proposition 1 would further protect the state's progressive laws on reproductive rights, which grant anyone of reproductive age “the fundamental right to choose to bear a child or to choose and to obtain an abortion.” Currently, those rights in California are held up by case law and statutes, but supporters said attacks on abortion access made additional safeguards in the state Constitution necessary.

California laws allow a woman to have an abortion until the point that a physician determines “there is a reasonable likelihood of the fetus’ sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures” or if the procedure is necessary in order to “protect the life or health of the woman.” In most cases, doctors have considered a fetus viable at 24 weeks.

Two-thirds of voters said they disapproved of the Supreme Court's ruling to overturn Roe vs. Wade and return abortion decisions to states. That sentiment is strongly shaped by ideology. Among those who described themselves as very liberal, 95% said they strongly disapproved of the high court's decision; among those who said they were very conservative, 10% disapproved.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's ruling, California's Democratic lawmakers have introduced more than a dozen bills and added $200 million in the budget to increase access to abortions in the state, including for those who travel to California from areas of the country where the procedure is banned.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the efforts will solidify “California’s status as a reproductive safe haven for women.”

Among those polled, 65% said they supported new laws that would help women from other states obtain an abortion in California. Half of voters said they strongly supported those efforts. Less than a quarter of Republicans supported the legislative fixes, with 70% saying they do not agree with new laws helping women from other states obtain an abortion.

Regardless of geographic region, majorities of voters said they supported California offering aid to women from other states, with support ranging from 54% in the Inland Empire to 75% in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A large majority of voters said the Court's decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade has them concerned that the justices may reconsider other rulings, such as those protecting birth control and same-sex marriage.

Overall, two-thirds of voters said that was of concern, with the question again producing a large partisan gap. Among those who described themselves as strongly conservative, 13% said they were very concerned about potential future decisions, while 88% of voters who are strongly liberal felt the same.

"I'm not sure you can get any more lopsided in polling," DiCamillo said.

The poll was conducted online in English and Spanish between Aug. 9 and Aug. 15 among 9,254 California registered voters. The estimated margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.