SACRAMENTO (AP) — The national furor over a Missouri congressman's comments about rape and abortion spilled into the California Legislature on Thursday, stoking a partisan — and personal — exchange.
The clash arose during an Assembly debate on a bill to further study whether nurse practitioners can safely perform a common method of abortion.
Democrats said they took offense over Missouri Rep. Todd Akin's statement this week that women have enough control over their bodies to prevent pregnancy during a rape. Republican lawmakers in the state Assembly called abortion an inhumane way to end life.
"We are charged with protecting the three inalienable rights that our founders thought to record in the declaration, the rights that come from the creator. And the very first one is the most important — life," said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks. "And yet, members of this house think the greatest threat to California is global warming."
GOP Assemblyman Brian Jones of Santee pleaded with Democrats — the majority party — not to expand "the ability for Americans to kill other Americans."
Several female Democratic lawmakers spoke in support of the bill. They said there have been growing protests against clinics and doctors, leading to a shrinking availability of abortion services.
They emphasized that it's a woman's legal right to have an abortion.
Others suggested their Republican colleagues should be outraged by Akin's comments when he was asked in an interview on a St. Louis television station whether his general opposition to abortion extended to women who got pregnant from being raped.
"From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," said Akin, who is the Republican candidate challenging Missouri's incumbent Democratic senator. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, responded to the statements by her Republican colleagues by invoking Akin's comments.
"Women continue to be oppressed by the ignorance that our bodies can simply get rid of something a male has inserted inside of us that we did not want," she said.
When her comment drew groans from some of her colleagues, she said, "Really, you're shocked? I am shocked that we're having this discussion on the floor."
A fellow Democratic lawmaker, Assemblyman Charles Calderon of Whittier, suggested Torres focus her remarks on the bill. She shot back saying, "I refuse as a woman to be shut down by you or any other man in this Assembly."
Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, carried the bill in the Assembly. She said four states — Oregon, Montana, Vermont and New Hampshire — already allow nurse practitioners to perform aspiration abortions, which involve inserting a straw-like tube to empty the uterus through suction.
The bill would provide a two-year extension for a program that has allowed 8,000 first-trimester abortions to be performed by nurse practitioners, certified midwives and physician assistants.
Atkins noted that it was former California Gov. Ronald Reagan, a Republican, who supported ending back-alley abortions when he signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act in his first year in office, 1967.
The bill, SB623, passed 46-24 and returns to the Senate for a vote on amendments.