Fears that a recent Supreme Court decision could lead to restrictions on abortion in California has galvanized women's rights organizations in the area, according to many who gathered across Los Angeles County on Saturday to celebrate the 19th Amendment, which was ratified 69 years ago this month and gave women the right to vote.
Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), addressing a conference in Los Angeles celebrating Women's Equality Day, said the right to abortion figures to be a key issue among voters in the 1990 state elections.
"The battle over choice is coming to California and to the state Legislature," Waters said in a speech to about 200 people at the conference, sponsored by the Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women. "I'm optimistic that we will win."
The 19th Amendment was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920.
The Supreme Court decision in the Missouri abortion case, Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, gives states new powers to regulate abortions. That decision now forces elected officials to make clear their positions on abortion, Waters said.
"Officials who have been vacillating now understand that women are serious about that issue," Waters said. "It's all right to be anti-choice, but it's not all right to be confused about the issue."
The Webster decision, along with the court's promise to hear more abortion cases in the fall, has prompted hundreds of phone calls and new members, said Marge Forest, coordinator of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the National Organization for Women.
"If we can't run our own bodies, we can't run our lives," said Forest, who handed out leaflets at a women's conference at Pasadena City College on Saturday.
"The Webster decision has made us a lot more aware that our rights are being threatened," said Clea Benson, of the Fund for the Feminist Majority. "The day after that decision our phones starting ringing off the hook."
Membership in the California Abortion Rights Action League has doubled in the past few months, a rise that Jessica Smith, a member of the group, attributes to growing fears of abortion restrictions.
But anti-abortion forces also were participants in Saturday's activities. Not far from where Forest was handing out material, members of the Right to Life League were also passing out literature.
"Our group opposes abortion and we want to make it illegal," said Diane Savoy. "We believe it is murder."
Although abortion rights was a hot topic, a variety of issues were advanced by a wide range of organizations participating in Saturday's activities.
Unequal pay, expensive child care and cuts to state health care budgets were mentioned by several participants, who ranged from the Los Angeles Radical Women to the Junior League of Los Angeles to Soroptimists International to the Los Angeles Police Department.