Newsom turns to suburban moms to bankroll Arizona abortion plan

Staring down a state budget deficit, Gov. Gavin Newsom needed money fast to fund his latest ambition for California.

So he turned to an influential voting bloc with a knack for fundraising: suburban moms from the Midwest.

The Democratic governor Thursday signed into law a bill that temporarily allows Arizona abortion providers to practice in California in order to help cope with an influx of patients crossing the state border in the two years since the Supreme Court ended nationwide abortion rights.

As soon as Newsom unveiled it last month, Red Wine & Blue — an organization headquartered in Ohio and dedicated to engaging suburban women in progressive causes — rushed to bankroll the initiative with the launch of the Arizona Freedom Trust. Participants nationwide have so far raised more than $100,000 for the cause, enough to help more than 200 Arizonans get abortions in California, they estimate. Their goal is half a million dollars.

Read more: California saw a surge in abortions after Dobbs. Providers are bracing for more

"This is our biggest, most direct effort to help women impacted by abortion bans," Red Wine & Blue founder Katie Paris says in a video as she sits in front of her children's watercolor paintings inside her home in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

"Creating the types of communities that we want to live in means reaching out with our hands and our hearts to our neighbors. When we come together to care for and support each other, we are unstoppable."

Since Newsom announced the initiative, abortion concerns have somewhat settled in Arizona: Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs signed a bill that repeals an April court decision that reinstated a law from 1864 that would have banned most abortions in the state. Arizona Atty. Gen. Kris Mayes, a Democrat, has warned that abortion access in the state remains "in flux" as the repeal can't go into effect yet.

The Arizona Supreme Court ruling was what prompted Newsom's bill, but his office said it will serve as "a critical backstop" regardless of what happens, as California abortion providers have reported a surge in patients since abortion access was rolled back in 2022, including Arizonans. Even without the Civil War-era law, Arizona limits abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. California generally allows abortions until 24 weeks.

"To Arizona people of child-bearing age, and those who love and support them, we have your back, at least until you get the chance to reverse this attack on your rights on the Arizona ballot this November," Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), an author of SB 233, said Tuesday after the bill cleared the Senate floor.

Newsom's decision to lean on a grassroots organization headquartered 2,400 miles from Sacramento is telling of the political power of suburban women — and the governor's gaze beyond California.

It's not the first time Newsom has gone after other state's abortion policies as he works to get President Biden reelected and raises his own national profile. Last month, he launched TV ads in Alabama, slamming the state for banning abortion. He also signed a law last year that allows doctors in states where abortion is banned to receive training in California.

This time, he's embarking on a project that allows him to forge inroads with residents of critical swing states. The approach also allows Newsom to advance a new initiative without dipping into California's budget, as he makes tough decisions about how to close the state's massive budget deficit.

Newsom spokesperson Omar Rodriguez said the newest legislation is about "stepping up to help others" and that Red Wine & Blue is equipped to "mobilize suburban women and others across the country who are impacted or deeply concerned by other states’ regressive policies."

Read more: How Newsom plans to fix California's projected $37.9-billion budget deficit

Though white suburban women were among the voters who helped elect Republican Donald Trump in 2016, that same demographic shifted to help elect Biden in 2020.

Now, both Biden and Trump are vying for suburban voters — and the future of abortion access is key. A recent Wall Street Journal poll of battleground states including Pennsylvania and Georgia found that 39% of suburban women consider abortion issues critical to their vote and that most believe Trump's positions are too restrictive.

Sara Sadhwani, a professor of politics at Pomona College who specializes in voting behavior and interest groups, said suburban women are increasingly influential at the polls. She pointed to research that shows the suburbs are becoming more racially diverse and that more women are going to college. Polling has shown that voters with degrees are more likely to lean Democrat.

"The suburbs are changing. Suburban women in particular are becoming incredibly more diverse, and that has real political implications," Sadhwani said. "We certainly have far more women today who are educated, who are outspoken. The feminist movements have had an incredible effect on female voters ... there were so many stories about how suburban women would listen to who their husbands wanted them to vote for, whereas today we know women are very independent-minded and make those choices for themselves."

The governor's national reach on abortion has been criticized by Republicans who say he should pay more attention to California, which is grappling with homelessness and the cost of living. Republicans on the California Senate floor this week questioned the need for the Arizona bill.

"Abortion is already free and ubiquitous in California," the California Catholic Conference, which opposes SB 233, said in a statement.

In Arizona, Republicans are already working to thwart a campaign to put the question of abortion rights to voters on a ballot measure, as California did with Proposition 1 in 2022.

Arizona Rep. Rachel Jones, a Republican who voted to keep the more restrictive abortion ban in place, said she was "disgusted" by Hobbs' reversal. “Life is one of the tenets of our Republican platform. To see people go back on that value is egregious to me," she said.

Paris, the Ohio activist tapped by Newsom, founded Red Wine & Blue after the 2018 midterm elections in an effort to help Democrats build power, a reflection of female voters who were both appalled and inspired to become involved after Trump's presidency.

Since then, the organization has expanded to states including North Carolina and Michigan and taken on Republican-backed issues such as book bans and LGBTQ+ school debates, in addition to reproductive rights.

"Suburban women have kind of gotten tired of other people speaking for us, and we want to speak for ourselves," Paris said. "We do not all look alike, think alike or drive matching minivans. Our lives are more complicated than that. And we are pretty tired of pundits and politicians telling us what we need."

The U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn abortion rights pushed more women into action, Paris said. She watched as hundreds of thousands of women across the country shared their own abortion stories and political fears and frustrations in a massive private Facebook page run by Red Wine & Blue.

"We don't care what's in the wine glass," Paris said, referring to her organization's name. "The important part is that when women get together, we get s— done."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.