In some parts of the country, political fights over abortion rights remain unsettled. Not so in California. With the passage of Proposition 1 on Tuesday, an overwhelming majority of voters supported enshrining those rights in the state constitution.
Under the previous state law, abortion was implicitly protected under the general right to privacy – a right that the California Supreme Court interpreted to include reproductive privacy in the Reproductive Privacy Act of 2002. This statute gave pregnant persons the fundamental right to choose to bear a child or to obtain an abortion.
Stanford Law Professor Michelle Mello, a leading health law scholar, said it is unclear whether Proposition 1 will expand abortion access in the state – such as allowing for late-term abortions – but it will expand the definition of reproductive rights to include decisions about contraceptives.
The California measure’s passage comes at a time of national uncertainty regarding the right to reproductive freedom. This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the landmark case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In a 5-4 vote, the court determined that the U.S. Constitution does not protect the right to abortion.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade sent a wave of anxiety throughout much of the country, particularly for women seeking abortions in the 13 states that have since criminalized the procedure.
“Prop. 1 would shore up California’s existing access to abortion care against the possibility that a future California legislature might get rid of the Reproductive Privacy Act or that a future California court—following the U.S. Supreme Court’s lead in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—might interpret our state Constitution’s general right to privacy as not encompassing a right to abortion,” Mello said.
With so much at stake in Tuesday’s elections, a Newsroom 104 reporter spoke with several Stanford students to hear their perspectives.
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Noelle Andrew, ‘24, Tulare County
For Andrew, who comes from a small conservative pocket in California’s Central Valley, Proposition 1 is the most important measure on the ballot. As co-president of Stanford Women in Law, she believes that it is part of a broader need to reaffirm and solidify a woman’s right to choose.
“Most of the time in my county, you find people that are indifferent at best [about abortion], which is kind of concerning…I know many people in my region who are self-identifying as Republicans who maybe support women’s right to choose in abortion cases, but aren’t necessarily allowed to vote to reflect that because abortion is so much a partisan issue nowadays.”
Andrew stressed the importance of every state election, particularly because people are less likely than ever to vote across party lines – even for issues they care about.
“It’s really hard to get Republicans voting for women’s right to choose when the people who are in office and supposedly protecting that right aren’t in line with their political party. I think that’s one of the reasons why we struggled so much, with grappling as a nation [with] how and why Roe v. Wade was overturned. Most people didn’t notice that voting for your governor and voting for your president impacts major rights that aren’t necessarily guaranteed in the Constitution, even though we may think they are or should be.”
Hannah Griswold, ‘25, San Diego
For Griswold, access to quick and cost-effective abortions always felt like a guarantee in California. But after Roe v. Wade was overturned and federal protection of abortion stripped, it has felt frightening for her to think about what this means for women.
“I know people personally whose lives would have been changed drastically if services provided by the state and Planned Parenthood were unavailable. A lot of people feel that California is one of the most liberal, Democrat states in the country, so to even have to vote on something like Prop 1 is strange and scary.”
Prior to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, abortion wasn’t even a question in places like California, where reproductive freedom has long been implicitly protected, Griswold said. Now, she feels the damage has already been done on a national level.
“I think it sends a message to women, and especially to young girls, that women are second class citizens, and we have less bodily autonomy. People in our society do not trust us as much to make decisions about our own bodies as they would trust men, and I think that the validity of this being signed into law is extremely concerning.”
Julia Briones-Avila, ‘24, Dawson County, Nebraska
Briones-Avila, whose parents are immigrants from Mexico, comes from a county of just over 23,000 people supported almost entirely by the Tyson meatpacking plant. Her hometown is largely made up of immigrant families. Though Nebraska is a red state, her community offers a mix of perspectives.
“It’s been interesting to see the interactions within the community because there are some people who believe that the 2020 election was a lie and still have Trump flags, but there are also first generation kids my age and a little older who are now starting their families, and they understand the importance of immigration reform for our community, and the importance of tolerance of different people.”
Religion plays a big role in peoples’ beliefs, she said, and the majority of her community is pro-life. Given her Catholic upbringing, Briones-Avila understands where their views on abortion are coming from, though it infringes on her own rights. But when Roe v. Wade was overturned, there were many women from her hometown who were upset by the court’s decision.
“It got pretty ugly on the Facebook scene back home.There were a lot of us women who were voicing our outrage, and there were a lot of men who had the guts to comment ignorant things, like how pregnancies from rape don’t even happen that often… It was eye-opening beyond Roe v. Wade, the general ignorance about what it is to be a woman in this world.”
Though many conservative candidates run unopposed in Nebraska and abortion isn’t an issue on the ballot now, Briones-Avila believes that it is crucial for women’s rights to be nationally upheld. Meantime, she said, the core of the issue lies with entitlement over other peoples’ bodies. She added that fostering respect for others and their boundaries needs to be the first step in creating permanent change.
Sophia Lamas, ‘24, Clear Creek County, Colorado
Lamas, the financial officer for Stanford Women in Law, comes from a small mountain county in Colorado, a state where abortion rights take a back seat to other pressing issues, she said.
“I think most people support the right to abortion. We’re lucky enough to be in a state that protects abortion rights, and that state is not going to change it anytime soon. We have two people running for governor, an incumbent Democrat and a Republican, and both of them support the right to abortion.”
Lamas notes that Colorado is a neighboring state to others that have banned or limited access to abortion. Many of Lamas’ friends back home are involved in information campaigns to help people understand the influx of individuals from other states seeking abortion in Colorado, and why it is important to help them.
She reiterated the importance of voting, something that – as an international relations major – she recognizes as a privilege many do not have.
“We often take for granted the fact that we’re even in a very high-functioning democracy, and that opposition parties run successfully. Abortion is not just an issue in America, it’s an issue in every single country, no matter what part of the globe you’re in. Because we present ourselves as an example to a lot of countries, it’s even more important that we do our best to preserve human dignity in life, and basic rights and freedom.”