California Catholic Conference hopes for amendments that would limit harm of abortion bill

An amendment to a California abortion bill ensuring it would not protect cases of infanticide is just one of many possible amendments that would improve it, the state Catholic conference has said.

AB 2223, dubbed an 'infanticide bill' by some pro-lifers, is intended to prevent the investigation and prosecution of women who procure abortion or have miscarriage. It would remove a requirement that coroners investigate the deaths of fetuses after 20 weeks that are related to or following known or suspected self-induced or criminal abortion.

The bill is not supported by the California Catholic Conference, which agreed to drop its opposition after the text's "most egregious" language was amended.

The bill's principal author, Buffy Wicks, a Democratic Assemblywoman representing Oakland, has cited the cases of two California women, Chelsea Becker and Adora Perez, that led to her drafting the text. The two faced charges after delivering stillborn children who had methamphetamine in their systems.

"Those are the types of things we're trying to stop, especially when we now live in an era of 'Handmaid's Tale' where, who knows what's happening?" Wicks told the Los Angeles Times in May. "You look at the examples of Chelsea and Adora in California in the year 2022. We actually do have to put in statutes to ensure that women are protected in these circumstances."

The bill stated: "Notwithstanding any other law, a person shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability or penalty, or otherwise deprived of their rights, based on their actions or omissions with respect to their pregnancy or actual, potential, or alleged pregnancy outcome, including miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion, or perinatal death."

The mention of "perinatal death" led to claims that the bill could prevent the prosecution of those involved in infanticide.

Because of this possibility, the California Catholic Conference successfully lobbied to have the text amended; it now reads " ... or perinatal death due to causes that occurred in utero."

Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the conference, explained to CNA that the group "is not in favor of AB 2223. We are currently neutral on the bill, following lobbying with the author about the language in the bill specific to the claims of 'infanticide'."

"Early in the legislative session, we decided not to simply oppose the bill but to aggressively seek to have the most egregious part of the bill language amended, which could only happen if we agreed to remove our opposition and go neutral once the language was amended. After two different rounds of amendments, our attorneys and consultants agreed that we were satisfied with the change to that specific language. And so we kept our promise."

Domingo said that "using the term infanticide was appropriate before the amendment was made," but "Now that the change is in place, the door has been closed on infanticide."

"California health and safety code already includes a statute ensuring the right to medical treatment of an infant born alive from an abortion, the same as any other child born prematurely. AB 2223 does not change that," she added.

"Make no mistake, we are not in support of the bill and will continue to evaluate any further amendments," Domingo said. "There is still much that can be done to amend the bill, and we hope other individuals and organizations attempt to do just that."

AB 2223 is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate appropriations committee Aug. 1.

Given the number of bills in California supporting abortion access, and their likelihood of being signed into law "no matter our stance," Domingo said that the state Catholic conference "worked to amend the most egregious parts of the bill. It's not perfect, but it was the only realistic option."

Both houses of the California legislature have Democratic supermajorities; 31 of the 40 senators are Democrats, as are 60 of the 80 Assembly members. Governor Gavin Newsom has pledge to make California a "sanctuary state" for abortion.

The state is considering a pro-abortion amendment to its constitution, which the Catholic conference "vehemently opposes"; training and providing personnel to perform abortions; enhancing privacy protections for abortion-related medical records; preventing professional boards from penalizing healthcare workers for providing lawful abortions; providing state-paid abortions and contraception to lower-income women; and allowing nurse practitioners to perform abortions, among other initiatives.

Already this year, California has eliminated co-pays for abortion and prevented civil cases from other states against those who procure or perform abortion there.

Domingo commented that pro-life organizations "have every opportunity to continue the work that we started" on AB 2223. "In fact, we've offered to make introductions with the bill's author, but the offer was declined."

"The Conference is working on the 20-something other abortions bills working their way through the Capitol, as well as Prop 1, the abortion constitutional amendment that will be on the November ballot, and it would be great to have the same amount of passion and willingness to help defeat those bills as well."