The out-of-the-blue battleground for the future of abortion rights

The out-of-the-blue battleground for the future of abortion rights

Good morning. It’s Thursday, July 11. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Abortion rights and the unexpected battleground for its future

Where voters stand on abortion rights, among other issues, will factor into the outcome of the presidential election this November, especially in many battleground states. Tension between supporting and opposing groups, even in “abortion sanctuary” California, is only increasing.

Last summer, members of Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, an antiabortion group, gathered in front of the Beverly Hills Medical Center to protest against the construction of a fertility clinic pursuing to expand its services in California.

DuPont Clinic, an abortion provider based in Washington, D.C., is specialized in offering procedures after 24 weeks. If opened, it would have been the only such abortion center in Southern California.

But, the cutoff for “fetal viability,” a legal standard instituted under Roe vs. Wade and refined under Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, is widely understood as 24 weeks.

Almost half of Americans say abortion should be illegal at 24 weeks, according to a 2022 Pew Survey. And for fundamentalist Christians like the Survivors (as they call themselves), life begins at fertilization.

For many experts, however, the medical picture is not as straightforward. My colleague Sonja Sharp reported on how this antiabortion group’s Beverly Hills campaign offers a “playbook on future efforts to shut down a clinic” even in the country’s most abortion-protective cities and states. Here’s what you need to know.

Antiabortion activists on top of a freeway in Los Angeles with a homemade banner.

Antiabortion activists with the group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust drop a homemade banner from the freeway over Los Angeles last summer as part of their campaign against the DuPont Clinic, a highly specialized abortion provider that had been set to open in Beverly Hills.

(Courtesy of Survivors LA)

Abortion laws and ambiguous language

First-trimester abortion procedures account for 93% of the total, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and are now largely induced at home with medication.

Later-stage abortions that happen between 21 and 24 weeks are usually a two-part procedure, via “dilation and evacuation,” and are slightly different from the 6% that happen between 14 and 20 weeks. They can take several hours or days, said Dr. Jennefer Russo, the DuPont Clinic’s chief medical officer. Only 1% of abortions are carried out after 20 weeks and less than 1% of abortions occur after 24 weeks.

Devastating fetal diagnoses, life-threatening maternal complications or pregnancy among very young patients or in the aftermath of abuse are the most common reasons why patients seek such late-term abortions, Dr. Kim Bader, associate professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at USC Keck School of Medicine said.

Abortion is banned at or past 24 weeks in many abortion-protective states such as Massachusetts and New York. In California, the law is a bit more ambiguous: Abortion is banned after “viability,” but a specific gestational age isn’t defined.

“There’s no medical reason to ban abortion based on how far along someone is in pregnancy,” Brittany Fonteno, president of the National Abortion Federation, told Sonja. “This is something that’s been created solely by antiabortion advocates and politicians to chip away at reproductive rights.”

The "four abortion yentas," Gay Abrams, Andrea Grossman, Heather Fels and Amanda Smith, sitting at a table.

The “four abortion yentas” are fighting back against what they say is city officials’ collusion with antiabortion extremists to scuttle a new abortion clinic in the tiny enclave on July 1, 2024 in Beverly Hills, California. From the left: Gay Abrams (back to), Andrea Grossman, Heather Fels and Amanda Smith.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Who broke the law? Protest aftermath leaves more questions than answers

The Survivors continuously allege that DuPont plans to violate the California law on abortions, which the clinic has repeatedly denied. Considered as an extremist group even within California’s antiabortion movement, the Survivors formed unyielding pickets and guerrilla freeway banner drops for weeks.

“We were 100% going to be compliant … but the law isn’t clear,” Russo told Sonja.

Beverly Hills officials moved quickly to address the group’s concerns almost as soon as they were approached, according to public records.

Reproductive rights advocates claim that the officials met with the Survivors and allied activists, aggressively pursuing their concerns, while allegedly not responding to DuPont leadership’s requests to meet with them for months.

Russo said she sought to meet with Beverly Hills officials but was turned down. Email records also show that the mayor of West Hollywood and a Corona city councilwoman had made attempts to contact their Beverly Hills counterparts.

Less than a month after antiabortion activist Tasha Barker met with city officials, landlord firm Douglas Emmett moved to terminate the clinic’s lease and ordered management to halt construction.

“These graphic threats have already disturbed and caused interference with other tenants’ use and enjoyment of their leased premises,” said an email sent by Douglas Emmett’s attorney.

Even weeks after the halting of construction, members from the Survivors including Emma Craig, a Bay Area art teacher and antiabortion activist, continued their protests and publicly claimed that DuPont was expected to open — though they received confirmation from officials that the clinic’s lease was rescinded, emails show.

The city denied allegations that it refused to meet with DuPont leadership and that it helped shut down the clinic.

Reproductive rights advocates like Andrea Grossman, one of the founders of Beverly Hills for Choice, consider this issue a “stain on the city that it meddled with something so urgent as this.”

She quickly organized with Gray Abrams, Heather Fels and Amanda Smith, giving themselves the nickname “abortion yentas,” borrowing the Yiddish word for a busybody or gossip. The Survivors’ name alone is offensive for the yentas.

The group has pushed for an independent investigation into the incident, alleging that the city “colluded and conspired” with the landlord to “induce breach of contract.” The city and landlord have denied these claims. The case, along with the DuPont’s ongoing litigation against the landlord and city, remain pending.

“If you could push a clinic like this out of Beverly Hills,” Bader said, “you could push it out of anywhere.”

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For your downtime

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(Los Angeles Times photo illustration; Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

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And finally … from our archives

This 1919 photo shows Boston Red Sox player Babe Ruth

This 1919 photo shows Boston Red Sox player Babe Ruth. Ruth played in the 1918 World Series against the Chicago Cubs that the Red Sox won 4-2.

(Associated Press)

On July 11, 1914, George Herman “Babe” Ruth played in his first major league baseball game for the Boston Red Sox.

A hundred years after his big league debut, the Times’ Chris Dufresne wrote about why Ruth is still larger than life.

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Defne Karabatur, fellow
Kevinisha Walker, multiplatform editor and Saturday reporter
Christian Orozco, assistant editor
Stephanie Chavez, deputy metro editor
Karim Doumar, head of newsletters

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