Editor's Note from April 30: The vote in the education committee approved the chemical abortion bill.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A new bill moving through the California’s Legislature, the Pupil and Student Health Act, would require student IDs to include a “sexual or reproductive health hotline.”
A.B. 624 would amend the state education code to mandate that the toll-free number be posted on the identification badges that are already required by many campuses, from middle school through college, and would include religious institutions of higher education.
Another proposed bill, the College Student Right to Access Act, or S.B. 24, calls for the provision of chemical abortions at all 34 California public colleges and universities. The bill is scheduled to be brought to vote Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee. Last year, then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation, but he has retired, and his successor, Gov. Gavin Newsom, is expected to sign the bill should it successfully move through the legislature.
These breaking developments have sparked intense opposition from pro-life legislators and activists. They argue that both measures give Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses greater access to young people, shaping values and real-time choices. And they contend that the mandated posting of the hotline on student badges would force young pro-lifers to promote an organization they vehemently oppose.
A.B. 624’s aim to put a “reproductive health” hotline on student ID badges is “an effort by the California Legislature to expose every high school and college student in California to a specific value system, regardless of their personal beliefs,” said California Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Granite Bay, who spoke out against the provision in an Assembly Education Committee hearing.
“I will continue to fight this, as well as other related bills, as they make their way through the committee process,” Kiley told the Register.
“What is this all about?” asked Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life. “This is Planned Parenthood’s target audience.”
Hawkins told the Register that the “reproductive health” hotline number on student ID cards would put students in direct contact with Planned Parenthood. She noted that the nation’s largest abortion provider has continued to step up its outreach to young Americans, launching a variety of initiatives and tools, from its explicit “Get Real” sexual-education curriculum, to toll-free hotlines that connect the public with call centers, to “Roo,” the artificial intelligence bot on the organization’s website that is programmed to answer questions about “sexual health” and make clinic appointments.
At present, Hawkins is helping her state affiliates work to defeat the bill that would require campus health centers to facilitate chemical abortions, and she is scheduled to testify against that measure on April 30.
If the bill passes, abortions will be more accessible to students, she noted, and it would create new hurdles for pro-life activists.
“How are you going to launch prayer vigils or protests in front of campus health centers?” Hawkins asked.
Californians for Life director Wynette Sills described the proposed facilitation of chemical abortion on campuses as a game changer. “It would mandate that our public universities distribute chemical abortion pills, ending human life up to 10 weeks of pregnancy,” said Sills.
Planned Parenthood’s Influence
The two proposed bills provide further evidence of Democratic lawmakers’ entrenched commitment to abortion rights — and the striking influence of Planned Parenthood, which is already a major powerbroker in Sacramento, donating to campaigns and influencing relevant legislation.
And pro-life critics of the proposed student ID bill have noted that its sponsor, Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, received a $4,400 campaign contribution from Planned Parenthood, and they assert that the funds influenced his plan to introduce the legislation.
Gabriel has denied that charge. And when staffers from the California Catholic Conference visited his office, he insisted that “he had no other agenda than wanting to help students … and Planned Parenthood wasn’t behind the bill,” Andrew Rivas, the new executive director of the conference, told the Register.
California already receives high marks from Naral Pro-Choice America for the state’s “strong protected access” to abortion rights.
Now, along with crafting the new legislation, Democratic lawmakers are also allocating funds that will help to transmit the pro-abortion message to young Californians from middle school to college age.
In January, Newsom unveiled a proposed 2019-2020 budget that doubled the state’s allocation of funds for sexual and reproductive health services.
“As Donald Trump defunds, Gavin Newsom delivers,” said Crystal Strait, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California president and CEO, in a statement celebrating the governor’s pledge to support “partnerships to deliver school-based sexual health education.”
The California Catholic Conference has joined forces with its legislative network to oppose the legislated introduction of chemical abortions at college health clinics, prioritizing this issue at its 2019 Catholic advocacy day in early April.
But even as pro-life activists from across the state speak out at committee hearings against the abortion measure, the outlook remains bleak: The legislature already passed a similar bill last year, and this time around, Newsom appears eager to sign it.
The outlook for the student ID law looks better, however. Even if the measure wins approval at the statehouse, the bill’s opponents believe it could be effectively challenged in court, and they point to the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra.
In that 2018 case, the justices overturned a California law that compelled pro-life women’s health centers to post signs with information about free abortions.
Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas concluded that the state could find other means to inform women about abortion services. But, he added, “California cannot co-opt the licensed facilities to deliver its message for it.”
“While [the bill] is objectionable on its face, it is also likely that it will be struck down as an unconstitutional form of compelled speech,” Assemblyman Kiley told the Register.
The Family Research Council’s president, Tony Perkins, used more colorful language to highlight the law’s threat to free speech, arguing in a commentary that it “essentially would be forcing every student to join an abortion sales team” even if they opposed the procedure on moral grounds.
But the larger question posed by these efforts to influence the choices of young people is whether the pro-life movement and its allies across the state can galvanize parents and college students to pushback against this agenda.
Jonathan Teller, president of the California Family Council, told the Register that “it is not enough for advocacy groups like the California Catholic Conference” to speak out. Teller noted that just a handful of people spoke out against the student ID provision at a recent legislative hearing.
“State legislators need to hear from individual parishes and citizens in their district,” he said. “They need to know that legislation like this affects real people, that parents don’t want their kids to become walking billboards for the abortion industry,” said Teller.
But pro-life advocates who have been working on these issues say it can be tough to recruit parents, with two-income families increasingly the norm and with political sensitivities in this liberal state acting as a further deterrent.
Still, advocacy groups stress that more Californians worried about the state’s direction need to make their voices heard, and there are some encouraging signs that a new crop of citizen activists is prepared to do battle over issues that concern parents.
One notable example is Denise Pursche, a public-school mom in Clayton, California, who was shocked by the explicit, inappropriate material in her fifth-grade twins’ sex-ed program and decided to take action.
After extensive research and consultation, Pursche drafted a bill, S.B. 673, which has been sponsored by state Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga. It would amend state law to strengthen the ability of elementary-school parents to preview sex-ed curricula and bar their children’s participation if they so wish.
Pursche is excited that her campaign to strengthen parental rights could pay off. But she emphasized that more families need to become similarly active.
“We need more parents to stand side by side with our legislators who are willing to go to bat on these issues,” Pursche told the Register. “Legislators don’t feel parents are engaged.”
Joan Frawley Desmond is a Register senior editor.
This story was updated after posting.