It was a night of hors d’oeuvre, history, and the health care bill.

The Santa Barbara Pro-Choice Coalition hosted an event January 25, with refreshments aplenty, to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Within the art-adorned walls of the Faulkner Gallery, located in the Santa Barbara Public Library’s main branch, men and women of various ages gathered to listen to two Santa Barbara religious leaders, Reverend Mark Asman and Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer, discuss abortion, along with Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

Focusing largely on abortion’s dominant role in debates over Congress’s health care bill, Kneer in her keynote address expressed particular frustration with Senator Ben Nelson and Congressman Bart Stupak—both Democrats. She said their actions resulted in a “major setback for women’s health.” She said their opposition to including federally-funded abortions in the bill set “a dangerous precedent” for the future of women’s health. She also said their opposition was “just meant to be a burden” to passage of the bill as a whole.

Kneer praised the efforts of Congresswoman Lois Capps, representing Santa Barbara, who worked to compromise with her aforementioned colleagues on abortion’s presence in the health care bill. Though it was defeated, the Capps Amendment would have allowed individual consumers to decide the role of abortion-funding in their health insurance plans, according to Kneer.

Kneer talked about the potential effect on California. Because California legalized abortion in 1968, five years prior to its being legalized nationally, many regard California to be very pro-choice. Kneer warned, however, that the health care bill will encompass all states. “California is not immune from what happens in Washington, D.C.,” she said.

What does differentiate California from the rest of the country, however, is its sharp decline in the number of teenage pregnancies, down approximately 50 percent since 1992, according to Kneer. The rest of the country has seen a steady increase in teenage pregnancies since then. Kneer made clear that such a marked difference is in large part due to California’s increasing support for comprehensive sex education, increased access to emergency contraception, and its protections for reproductive privacy—protections that could be jeopardized by the Congressional health care bill.

Rev. Asman, of Santa Barbara’s Trinity Episcopal Church, and Rabbi Gross-Schaefer, of the Community Shul of Montecito and Santa Barbara, annunciated their support for women’s rights and asserted that being religious and being pro-choice are not always mutually exclusive.

Declaring himself a “progressive religious activist,” Asman critiqued the health care bill’s anti-abortion amendment. “God is grieved by this amendment,” he said. Asman went on to say that he feared the “tragic consequences of a pre-Roe world.”

Gross-Schaefer—who for 28 years has been a law professor at Loyola Marymount University, a Catholic institution—was equally supportive of a woman’s right to choose, declaring that abortion was “not a concept of murder whatsoever” given that the “fetus not a separate human being—not until a head emerges.” He said that as “a very religious person, I have to be pro-choice.”

Also present to lend their support for keeping abortion legal were some prominent local political figures, including Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, Santa Barbara City Council members Grant House and Das Williams, Goleta Mayor Pro Tempore Margaret Connell, and former State Assembly member Hannah-Beth Jackson. Mary Ellen Wylie, chair of the Santa Barbara Pro-Choice Coalition, ended the evening with unwavering optimism, vowing to be “relentless in our battle to protect women’s health.”


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