Published April 27, 2022
In anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling this summer in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, various legislatures are shoring up abortion laws to take effect if the justices send the issue back to states.
In red states, pro-life energy has focused on preventing abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, prohibiting mail-order chemical abortions, and consolidating resources for pregnant mothers and families in need of assistance. In blue states, abortion supporters are expanding access to legal abortion, whether by altering state constitutions, codifying a supposed fundamental right to abortion, or suing to prevent lawmakers from enforcing existing anti-abortion statutes.
And in California, Democratic lawmakers are on a quest to make their state the most abortion-friendly in the nation — or an abortion “sanctuary,” as California governor Gavin Newsom promised last year.
Planned Parenthood’s California affiliates are spearheading the campaign, sponsoring a package of bills that, according to the Sacramento Bee, “are intended to provide legal protections . . . for patients and providers in California, set up a fund to provide financial and logistical support for abortion access, create a state-supported website on how to obtain abortion services and increase the abortion services workforce.”
Perhaps the most controversial of these bills is AB 2223, which supporters say is meant to protect women from prosecution if they obtain an abortion or experience a stillbirth — never mind that abortion is legal throughout pregnancy in California, and there is no serious pro-life effort anywhere in the country to prosecute women who obtain abortions.
According to pro-life critics, the bill effectively decriminalizes infanticide. Its text states that persons aren’t subject to liability or penalty “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 due to a pregnancy-related cause.”
The crucial phrase is “perinatal death,” which, though it remains undefined in the bill’s text, is generally taken to include infant death well after birth. In response to this criticism, the bill’s author amended the section to include the phrase “due to a pregnancy-related cause.” But this does little to ameliorate the concern, which is that the law technically shields individuals from legal penalty if they kill a newborn, whether directly or through neglect.
While the bill’s defenders insist that the legislation has nothing to do with infanticide, it’s notable that the text itself doesn’t define “perinatal,” leaving it open to all sorts of interpretations, many of which would protect neglecting or killing a newborn. Testifying against the bill, Katie Glenn of Americans United for Life notes that “elsewhere in California law, ‘perinatal care’ is defined as ‘provision of care during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum and neonatal periods.’ DHCS states that women who complete a live birth should have a postpartum visit between 21–56 days, and March of Dimes defines ‘neonatal’ as the first 27 days of a child’s life.”
“Absent a definition in the bill, it certainly appears that the intent of this legislation is to legalize child abandonment (or worse) in the first weeks after birth,” Glenn adds. “If this is not the bill sponsors’ intent, they should amend the bill to clarify that the official policy of California is not state-sanctioned infanticide.”
That the bill’s sponsors have yet to do so is the clearest evidence that they wouldn’t mind if the law is used to protect post-birth killing. To be sure, it matters little to the vulnerable child whether he faces lethal violence inside the womb or outside of it. In pushing for this further expansion of abortion’s evil logic, California Democrats affirm that it matters little to them, too.
Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.