Aborting Their Own

OC conservatives say a San Diego publisher has hijacked the anti-abortion movement

Photo by Byron Beck/Willamette
Week
/Courtesy of San Diego CityBeatMark Bucher is a Republican and a Christian, but he's not particularly thrilled about a November initiative that would limit abortion rights.

"I'm going to vote for it," Bucher says in the tone that Nader supporters use to justify their votes for Kerry. "I'm not opposed to the idea. I just don't like how it got on the ballot."

The Parents' Right to Know and Child Protection Initiative would require parental notification whenever a minor seeks an abortion. But many conservatives say the measure's chief backer, a reclusive San Diego publisher, hijacked the state anti-abortion movement, marginalized prominent activists and used his personal fortune to bankroll what they say is a flawed initiative. In the end, they say, the measure will almost certainly pass—and then die in the courts.

They say they'll vote for the Parents' Right to Know initiative, but they won't canvass for it, won't give money, won't endorse it from church pulpits. Nothing.

What's more, they say, the measure will ruin years of hard work to keep minors from seeking abortions.

At the center of the imbroglio is Jim Holman, owner and publisher of the SanDiegoReader, one of the largest alternative weeklies in the country.

Bucher has an extensive résumé in the culture wars. Last year, the Irvine attorney represented the Westminster School District in its fight to overthrow state anti-discrimination law. In the fall of 2003, anti-abortion activists hired him to direct signature gathering for the Parental Notification Initiative (PNI), the prototype for the Parents' Right to Know Initiative.

The PNI was a magnet for anti-abortion activists around the county. It drew brainpower from such prominent groups as the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and Americans United for Life, a Chicago-based organization that helped draft the initiative's text.

Holman was there, too, involved in planning, according to Bucher. The publisher had previously donated about $300,000 to fund a similar measure in 1999 that never made it on the California ballot. But around December 2003, Holman unexpectedly pulled out of PNI and launched a competing measure: the Parents' Right to Know Initiative.

The move surprised PNI volunteers. "Jim [Holman] concluded that things needed to be done differently," but never gave a concrete reason, Bucher explains tersely. "When people are all working together on an issue, you all try to work [any problems] out. But Jim just went off. They sort of determined to get their initiative on the ballot."

A call to Holman was returned by Albin Rhomberg, spokesperson for the Parents' Right to Know Initiative. Rhomberg told the WeeklyHolman decided to fund his own anti-abortion measure because of "blunders" in the organization behind PNI and in the measure itself. Rhomberg says Holman was "very committed to do a good initiative. You can't have multiple ones."

Early on, Holman lined up powerful supporters. In February 2004, three ultra-orthodox Catholic newspapers—Los AngelesLayCatholicMission, SanDiegoNewsNotesand SanFranciscoFaith—urged conservatives to reject the Parental Notification Initiative. Claiming "fatal flaws" in the PNI's wording would make it unenforceable and create an "open invitation" to ACLU lawsuits, the papers instructed readers to "plead" with their bishops to support Holman's initiative "and not . . . the fatally flawed PNI now in circulation." Subsequent issues of the newspapers included stories explaining Holman's initiative, how to volunteer for the campaign and even copies of the petition to sign and mail.

Many readers may not have known that Holman himself owns all three papers.

Rhomberg says Holman did all this to ensure his investment in the Parents' Right to Know Initiative. But Holman did more than print stories in his Catholic monthlies. The phone number listed for Life on the Ballot, the PAC created for the initiative, is the same as the main offices of the Reader, a paper much like OCWeekly.

While Holman gave no money to the PNI, he has almost single-handedly funded Life on the Ballot. According to campaign-finance records, the orthodox Catholic contributed just over $1.22 million to Life on the Ballot—about 72 percent of the PAC's total income. Holman also gave $300,000 to Bader and Associates, a Newport Beach-based signature-gathering company, to help Life on the Ballot.

Holman's considerable wealth doomed the Parental Notification Initiative, which folded soon after Holman's push. Bucher says PNI volunteers made "aggressive attempts" to negotiate a compromise initiative, but Holman "never really wanted to. . . . We made a decision that we should stop and get back together. But we were never able to get any serious conversation with Jim."

Polling shows a majority of California voters support the Parents' Right to Know Initiative. But Bucher is concerned the measure doesn't stand a chance in court.

Rhomberg says comparisons between the PNI and the Parents' Right to Know Initiative aren't valid since "they're not even the same." But most of the language in the Parents' Right to Know Initiative is identical to that of the older PNI. The one significant change is the inclusion of a clause that would prohibit forced abortions.

And that clause, some conservative analysts say, violates California's single-subject rule. Attempting to simplify California's chaotic referendum process, state legislators required that initiatives address only one subject at a time. On parentsright2knowforum.org, a Garden Grove-based website sponsored by California Young Americans for Freedom, a Pacific Justice Institute representative wrote that the forced-abortion clause in Holman's initiative did "not add anything substantive to the initiative, but create[s] the risk of invalidating it entirely."

The California Catholic Conference, the public-policy arm of California's Roman Catholic bishops, agrees. Just months before the PNI collapsed, that body took the extraordinary step of endorsing it over Holman's initiative. "[O]ur lawyers have warned us," their press release stated, "that [the Parents' Right to Know Initiative] may be successfully challenged on legal grounds."

Rhomberg dismisses those concerns as "prudential differences" and "excessive caution." But another prominent election lawyer disagrees. In November, Eric Grant—a member of the Federalist Society who worked on the failed gubernatorial campaign of Bill Simon—wrote a memo warning that the forced-abortion clause of the Parents' Right to Know Initiative is a "flaw that makes it vulnerable to legal attack under California law."

Reached at his Sacramento office, Grant told the Weekly, "I stand by what I wrote. . . . Anyone asked to defend [the Parents' Right to Know Initiative] could mount a credible defense. But as my memo said, there's a risk. There's a danger of it. It's a concern, and any supporter needs to take that concern seriously."

GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

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