NARAL Pro-Choice California
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Powers of the Governor

As reproductive rights erode at the federal level, it is increasingly necessary to turn to our state government for protection of our most basic rights. California is the most pro-choice state in the nation. While our Constitution and laws provide affirmative protections for women’s health and the right to choose, the Governor has tremendous influence over whether those laws are enforced, strengthened, or weakened. The Governor of California:

The Governor Proposes and Signs the State Budget
As the architect of the state’s budget, the Governor has the power to fund programs that impact reproductive rights. If insufficient resources are devoted to reproductive healthcare enforcement and access, women are unable to exercise their rights—even under the best laws. The Governor’s role in the state budget includes:

  • Appointing the head of the Department of Finance
  • Proposing new programs to be funded
  • Suggesting funding strategies
  • Increasing/decreasing funding for existing programs

Most importantly the Governor has the last word. Not only does the budget require the Governor’s signature, but s/he has line-item veto power. Here are some examples of how California Governors have wielded financial power over reproductive rights:

  • In 1989, Governor George Deukmejian essentially de-funded family planning in California. Deukmejian cut $24 million out of the $36 million state family planning budget, leaving only $12 million – the bare minimum mandated to maintain the program as required by law, but not enough to provide services to the many women and adolescents who needed them. This act was decried by the public and members of the Legislature from both political parties. Legal Services agencies sued Deukmejian, and the Court of Appeals ordered him to restore the funds. The Legislature also passed legislation to override his veto and to ensure the funds were put back in the budget. In the interim, however, as many as 40 clinics were forced to close for lack of funding. Thousands of women lost access to essential family planning services, leaving them vulnerable to unwanted pregnancy and without access to other covered services such as cancer screening and AIDS prevention.
  • Pete Wilson dedicated significant funds to family planning programs. During his term, from 1991 to 1998, Wilson reversed the actions of his predecessor, Deukmejian, and increased state funding for family planning from $32 million to $65 million annually. However, in 1996, Governor Wilson also eliminated funding for prenatal care for undocumented women, making the choice to bear a healthy child very difficult for immigrant mothers.
  • From 1998 to 2002, Gray Davis increased family planning funding to $98 million annually, and successfully obtained a federal waiver to expand family planning services and bring more federal dollars into the state. TOP

The Governor Signs or Vetoes Legislation and Sets the Policy Agenda
Before a bill can become a law, it must cross the Governor’s desk. The Governor has the power to sign or veto legislation—making it possible to further or hamper pro-choice policies. The Governor lays out legislative priorities and plans for the coming year every January in the State of the State speech. Through this speech, the Governor sets the tone and priorities for the legislative session. When Gray Davis gave his first State of the State speech, he declared, "And I respectfully suggest to those who would deny a woman’s right to choose, please don’t waste the Legislature’s time.” This is a powerful message for lawmakers and the public. Here are some examples of the Governor’s legislative influence over reproductive rights:

  • During the Deukmejian era, several anti-choice bills were signed into law – some of which were eventually overturned by the California Courts. From 1983-1990, Deukmejian signed bills to require parental consent before minors could obtain abortions, and to eliminate public family planning funding for clinics who also provided abortions or abortion information.
  • While Pete Wilson was predominantly pro-choice, his Republican ideology of protecting business over consumers and of giving undue deference to the Catholic Church led him to veto Contraceptive Equity legislation three times.
  • Other than pre-natal care, Wilson was very supportive of family planning services, and in 1997 enacted the FamilyPACT program, a comprehensive package of preventive services for women and adolescents. FamilyPACT was one of the first state family planning programs to serve men as well as women, and was initially funded wholly from state funds.
  • In Governor Davis’ 1998-2002 term, he signed bills to protect reproductive freedom by providing protection from violence for reproductive health care clinics, Medi-Cal funding for breast and cervical cancer treatment for low income women, requiring that sex education materials in schools be medically accurate and unbiased, and allowing pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception if they are trained and have an arrangement with a physician. TOP

The Governor Signs Executive Orders and Directs Administrative Agencies
The Executive Order and Administrative Directives are also tools at the Governor’s disposal. The powers of the Governor, as the Executive of the State, include the authority to interpret, as well as implement, statutes and provisions of the Constitution. Actions taken by administrative agencies, which the Governor directs, can impact reproductive freedom just as powerfully as legislation. The rules and regulations adopted by various state agencies, especially the Department of Health, dictate how legislation will be implemented and enforced. Here are some examples of this executive power in action:

  • When Pete Wilson was unsuccessful in legislative and budgetary attempts to eliminate prenatal care for undocumented women, he issued an Executive Order in 1996 to stop Medi-Cal from paying for these vital health services, on the grounds that he was implementing the federal welfare reform legislation.
  • In 2002, Gray Davis used the power of his office to direct all managed care plans in California to cover emergency contraception, clarifying that California’s contraceptive equity legislation includes EC. California is the first state in the nation to cover emergency contraception in this way. TOP

The Governor Appoints Government Policymakers
The Governor makes hundreds of appointments during his or her term. These appointments include:'

  • State Court Judges and Supreme Court Justices
  • heads of agencies and departments
  • dozens of Advisory Board, Commission, and Council Members

The Governor’s appointees reflect his or her philosophy and ideology—impacting the enforcement of pro-choice policies. While the public is generally aware of the impact the federal courts make on reproductive freedom, they often overlook the many lesser-known appointments that can significantly affect access to reproductive health services and other civil rights. Here is an example:

  • George Deukmejian appointed David B. Swoap to head the Health and Welfare Agency and Swoap immediately worked to eliminate state financial and administrative support for family planning.

The Courts -
The Governor appoints, with confirmation by the State Senate, all of the judges for:

  • the state Trial Courts
  • the Courts of Appeal
  • the California Supreme Court

These courts interpret and enforce the Constitution and the laws that protect reproductive freedom. The California Courts have addressed a number of issues involving reproductive rights. Over the years the California Court has maintained that proposed legislative restrictions, which may have been legal under the Federal Constitution, were, nonetheless, prohibited under the California Constitution. Here are some examples:

  • In 1981, the California Supreme Court invalidated restrictions in the California Budget Act of 1981-82 that would have limited Medi-Cal funding for abortions for low-income women.
  • In 1990, a California Court of Appeals ordered George Deukmejian to restore funding he had cut from the state family planning program. The case was eventually abandoned by the state when the Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto, and restored the funding to the program.
  • In 1997, the California Supreme Court overturned legislation signed by George Deukmejian, which would have prohibited minors from obtaining abortions without parental consent. Gray Davis appointed 180 judges and justices during the 1999-2002 term. All of them share strong support for California’s constitutional protections of the right to privacy.

Agencies and Departments - Each time a new Governor is elected, he or she appoints the heads of state departments and agencies to implement a singular vision of government. The Governor appoints/approves the appointments of:

  • the Director of the Department of Health Services
  • the head of Maternal and Child Health
  • the head of the Office of Family Planning
  • the head of the Office of Women’s Health

These visible leaders make the difference between programs that conduct effective outreach, service and enforcement, and programs that erect barriers and obstacles for the women they serve. Here are a few examples:

  • In 1983, George Deukmejian appointed David B. Swoap as Director of Health and Human Services. In that position, Swoap worked actively to dismantle the State’s family planning program, including attempting to eliminate sex education in schools and to end state funding for family planning. Swoap expressed his views, "I want to see the unborn child given a choice, and I think the unborn child would choose to live.”
  • Deukmejian also approved the appointment of D. Jerome Hansen to head the Office of Family Planning. Hansen oversaw a $35,000 state contract with the Right to Life League of Southern California to produce a video on abstinence.

Boards and Commissions - The Governor appoints individuals to a broad spectrum of boards and commissions. Often, Governors use these appointments to reward allies and supporters, and to ensure that his or her perspective is reflected in the work of these entities. An anti-choice Governor is most likely to make anti-choice appointments. When George Deukmejian wanted to obstruct access to family planning, he packed what was then called the Family Planning Advisory Board with people who, like the Reverend Royal Blue of Redding, were anti-choice and anti-family planning. Rev. Blue, the head of the California Moral Majority, fought fiercely against family planning education in schools, and against any services for minors without parental consent. TOP

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