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California passes broad abortion-rights legislation

With most states hostile to extending rights, the package of bills is remarkable.

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On a recent day when the Afghan president barely escaped assassination, war with Iraq seemed to edge ever closer, and a 67-day state budget stalemate finally ended, California Gov. Gray Davis's policy speech to activists here slipped by nearly unnoticed.

Yet it was a historic moment. On that day earlier this month, Governor Davis announced that he had signed what could be the most ambitious package of abortion-rights bills in US history.

They cover a broad array of issues – from ensuring that abortions could continue here even if the landmark Roe v. Wade decision were overturned to the demand that all medical residency programs in the state teach abortion procedures. Some are significant for their symbolism, others for the profound effect they might have on who performs abortions and how.

In a time when abortion-rights advocates find themselves most often on the defensive – in some states parrying hundreds of antiabortion bills each year – the passage of one bill to make abortion easier is rare, say experts. That California enacted four in one day is unprecedented.

Indeed, no one expects any states to follow suit.

Instead, the bills cast California as something of an iconoclast on the topic of abortion, as the nation's most populous state and its governor become conspicuous leaders on one side of perhaps the most divisive issue in American politics.

"I can't think of another set of state legislation enacted since Roe v. Wade [in 1973] that is this dramatically and specifically pro-choice," says David Garrow, a law professor and expert in abortion policy at Emory University in Atlanta. "It is a remarkable package."

Each of the four bills, he and others say, is groundbreaking:

One bill makes California the first state to shield clinics and their employees and patients from harrassment by blocking public access to names and addresses of the clinics themselves and all those associated with them.

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