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Justices Open Door to Change in California's Abortion Policy

July 04, 1989|JOHN BALZAR | Times Political Writer

1967--Gov. Ronald Reagan signs the California Therapeutic Abortion Act in a compromise with legislative Democrats. The Republican governor says he is "fully sympathetic with attempts to liberalize the outdated abortion law" then in existence. He talks about the "humanitarian goals of the measure," saying "a liberalization of the abortion laws is necessary."

The law, still on the books, permits abortions in hospitals during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy if a committee of physicians finds the pregnancy will impair the life or health of the mother or if it results from rape or incest.

1972--The California Supreme Court under Chief Justice Donald R. Wright voids many of the restrictions of the abortion law on grounds of vagueness. Left intact is the requirement that abortions be performed in hospitals.

Reagan becomes disenchanted by what he considers a too-liberal implementation of the law. While he is governor, there are an estimated 750,000 abortions in California, one-third of them financed by the state's Medi-Cal health insurance program for the poor.

Also in 1972, California voters approve a ballot initiative and amend the state Constitution establishing an express right of privacy.

1973--Roe vs. Wade establishes a national right to abortions as a matter of privacy.

1979--Legislature approves restrictions or prohibitions on use of Medi-Cal funds for abortion. State Supreme Court in 1981 under Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird rules that such prohibitions violate a woman's right to privacy. Medi-Cal abortions continue.

1986-Voters defeat Bird and two other liberal justices.

1987-The Legislature votes to require women under age 18 to obtain parental consent for abortions. A trial judge blocks enforcement and the case is now before a California appeals court.

1988-Twice this year the state Supreme Court under Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas refuses to hear a challenge to Medi-Cal financing of abortions. Medi-Cal abortions continue.

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