ANAHEIM, Calif.—The California GOP shot down a bid by a group of delegates to moderate the state party’s abortion stance, which they hoped would woo more voters in the deep-blue state.
The proposed state party platform overhaul, introduced at the end of July, would have deleted the statement that life begins at conception as well as language against elective and late-term abortions.
The debate in California—which offers the easiest access to abortion in the nation—underscores the challenge for national Republicans as they wrestle with how or whether to regulate abortion on the federal level since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In the days leading up to the California party’s fall convention, Republicans clashed over who the platform is for and whether moderating on abortion to woo mainstream voters would demoralize the grassroots base.
"Our platform is mainly for internal party affairs, and it really matters a lot to our base, and it matters a lot to the volunteers we rely on to get out the vote—so it’s very important as a statement of principles," attorney Harmeet Dhillon told the Washington Free Beacon.
The issue is already an electoral linchpin nationally. Many saw the Republicans’ failure to take back the Senate and win more House seats in 2022 as an electoral backlash against the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling. Fourteen conservative states have banned the procedure in almost all instances since Roe was reversed and in some instances triggered voter resistance. Still, the majority of Americans believe that abortion should only be legal in the first trimester.
Former president Donald Trump waded into the fight earlier this month, lambasting Florida governor Ron DeSantis for his six-week abortion ban and suggesting he would find a compromise with abortion supporters if he wins the 2024 election.
Dhillon, a force among California’s conservatives and one of the state’s three representatives at the Republican National Committee, led the charge to keep the old platform with its anti-abortion stance. On Saturday, a delegate committee backed her position and tabled debate on a new draft before it could go for a full vote.
"We need to focus on drawing distinctions with the left that is destroying our great nation, not stoke divisions within our base," Dhillon said in a statement after the vote.
California allows abortion through the third trimester, runs its own abortion-finder website, and even bans insurance companies from charging copays to terminate a pregnancy. And some California Republicans think the party should try to attract moderate blue voters fed up with the state’s heavy taxes and regulations, high cost of living, inflation, homelessness, and soft-on-crime policies.
"This will hamstring California’s Republican Party as voters wonder what decade the party is focused on … the past or the future," said Charles Moran, a state delegate from Los Angeles who also helms the national branch of Log Cabin Republicans and helped with the platform re-draft.
"I think we are at a place where we have disaffected Democrats and independents willing to look at Republicans and what we have to offer," Moran said. "I want to expand the areas where we have common ground with commonsense Republicans. We have to earn those votes."
But opponents said compromising party values on abortion would alienate the state’s already beleaguered social conservatives and likely do little to move the needle on drawing voters in.
"To remove life at conception [from the platform] would not only disenfranchise conservatives, it would disenfranchise conservative Democrats who are now looking at the leftist takeover of their party—and if we are following behind, then they’re not going to be attracted to us," said David Hernandez of the Los Angeles Hispanic Republican Club. "So this is not the time to do that."
The top Republicans in the state legislature plunged into the fray on Friday, saying adopting a new platform now was the wrong move ahead of a tough election.
"We cannot risk a divisive platform debate extending to the next convention during an important election year," GOP state senator Brian Jones and assemblyman James Gallagher said in a statement.
California Democrats have intensified their abortion agenda, while cracking down on crisis pregnancy centers.
Just this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) signed legislation to give legal immunity to abortion providers who perform the procedure where it’s illegal, to ban malpractice insurers from refusing to cover those people, to let physician assistants perform abortions, to limit who can offer ultrasounds, and more.
Last week, Democratic attorney general Rob Bonta sued a chain of crisis pregnancy centers for advertising abortion pill reversal.