Recently I’ve been asked why San Diego should elect a pro-choice mayor. After all, mayors run city departments, manage the municipal budget, and (hopefully) set a clear vision for our city’s future. They do not run any health services or enact heath care policy. So why should it matter whether San Diego’s next mayor is pro-choice?
The answer is that it matters greatly. During the past decade, anti-abortion rights groups have expanded their agenda to oppose contraception programs and women’s health services. In just the first half of 2011, 162 new laws were enacted which restrict women’s reproductive health care — the majority of which were attacks on preventive health care services and providers. While the media pays close attention to these issues as they are debated in Congress or in the state legislatures, little attention is paid to the important role city governments can and do play in this political struggle.
Three of the most important municipal issues for reproductive health providers are preserving access to health care facilities, being treated fairly in the permitting of new facilities, and knowing that public safety departments will be able to do their jobs without political interference. There are many cities in the U.S. where anti-choice mayors and council members have misused their authority to obstruct providers like Planned Parenthood. Fortunately, despite the efforts of some local politicians, San Diego has not been one of them.
In 1993, San Diego took a leadership role in protecting patient access to health care facilities, including reproductive health care providers, by adopting one of the first “bubble ordinances” in California. Back then groups like Operation Rescue were using aggressive tactics, including intimidation and harassment of patients and staff, and outright blockading of some San Diego clinics, to try and achieve on the sidewalk what they could never achieve at the ballot box: denying women their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.