EXPLAINER: How California Leaders Can Add Abortion Rights to State Constitution

Abortion rights are already protected by a right to privacy here in California, but adding abortion protections to the state constitution would take things a step further

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California voters could decide whether to add abortion protections to the state's constitution in the fall.

Governor Gavin Newsom, State Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins and other legislative leaders announced they are putting an amendment on the November ballot.

The leaders have also pledged to make California a sanctuary for people from other states seeking abortions, and say they want to add abortion protections to the state's constitution that would make it much harder for future lawmakers to repeal them.

"The idea would be to make sure that the right to an abortion remained protected in California by actually putting that right into the constitution," said Robert Shapiro, University of San Diego Dean and C. Hugh Friedman Professor of Law.

USD Dean Shapiro explains to NBC 7 the process of adding a constitutional amendment.

"It's common in California and other places to create amendments to the constitution, you have a two-thirds vote of both parts of the legislature – the senate and the assembly and then it goes to the people," said Dean Shapiro. "If there’s a majority vote of the people then the initiative becomes an amendment to the constitution."

When it comes to reproductive rights, the state of California already has abortion protections, but Shapiro considers this new move symbolic.

"At a time when there is a lot of focus on restricting abortion in many states, California wants to be a leader in saying 'Oh, actually, we think it's important to affirm that a woman should be able to have the right to choose an abortion and we want to change the narrative a bit,'" he said.

The decision by state leaders is also not a first. There's been a trend over the past 20 years of states taking their own stance on national issues.

"At a time when the US government was not doing much for climate change we saw how the state of California tried to enact laws to reduce emissions and even talk to other countries to reduce emissions," Shapiro said.

Meanwhile, Congress passing a law protecting abortions is still not off the table.

"So, perhaps Congress could take that kind of national action but if they don’t then it will be up to each state to decide what will be the rule in our state," he explained.

California is among about 20 other states that have laws already in place protecting abortion services.

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