What difference? Democrats for governor again try to disagree

On Tuesday night, the four Democrats running to be governor of California met in San Francisco to spell out exactly where they stand on abortion, birth control access, and other matters of reproductive health.

It turns out they all pretty much stand in the same place.

The event, sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice California, was not officially a partisan affair—organizers said they had also invited Republican candidates John Cox and Travis Allen (though not Doug Ose) but none participated. That left a stage full of Democrats cycling between variations of “I agree” and “I agree, but as governor, I would go even further.”

Over the course of the hour-and-a-half forum, the four candidates were asked whether the state should expand access to contraception and abortion, whether anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers should be more strictly regulated, and whether the constitutional right to abortion should supersede the religious objections of others.

From the candidates: Yes, yes, and yes.

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill, sponsored by NARAL, that would have prohibited employers from restricting the reproductive health decisions of their workers. Advocates pointed to religious institutions that had issued their employees handbooks informing them they were expected to reject in vitro fertilization, contraception and abortion.

Critics of the bill questioned how common it really is in California for a person to be fired for such choice. Religious groups said it would infringe on their right to hold employees to a code of conduct in line with the tenets of their faith. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it, arguing current law goes far enough.

All of the candidates respectfully disagreed with the governor, while aggressively agreeing with one another. Newsom took the opportunity to channel his inner Jerry Brown and name-drop from the Classics.

California has at least 200 “crisis pregnancy centers.” These are anti-abortion organizations, typically located in low-income neighborhoods, that advise women not to terminate their pregnancies. In 2015, the Legislature passed a bill requiring these clinics to inform patients about publicly subsidized abortion options. After the bill became law, a conservative religious group sued, arguing that the law violates the free speech rights of crisis center operators. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case this year.

Regardless of the court’s decision, the candidates were asked, what should the state do to further regulate these centers?

Everyone agreed that the answer was definitely…something. But most of the candidates had a tough time getting specific about what that something would be.

This month, the state Senate passed a bill that would require all public universities in California to offer non-surgical abortions to students. The Assembly has yet to consider the bill.

But if any of the four Democrats were governor, they said, they would happily sign it into law. Eastin also used the opportunity to champion a state-funded single payer health insurance program. That’s something that both she and Newsom support, but unlike in previous forums, this didn’t provoke much of a debate with Villaraigosa and Chiang, who are skeptical of how a single-payer system would be funded.

As of 2016, Californians can buy hormonal birth control pills over the counter—almost. According to state law, pharmacists, and not just doctors, can now prescribe the pill (or patch or ring). In theory, all that’s required is a brief consultation, a blood pressure test, and a payment.

But a year later, a study found that only 1-in-10 California pharmacies were really offering contraceptives on-demand.

The candidates were asked if they would support making birth control fully over-the-counter. This is something that only the Food and Drug Administration has the power to do. Nevertheless, each of the gubernatorial candidates was solidly on board with the idea. Newsom also used the opportunity to endorse a single payer system that would cover all health care costs, while Villaraigosa subtly took an opposing view.

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