Abortion became an unlikely issue in the Los Angeles mayor's race this week after a draft Supreme Court opinion published Monday by Politico appeared to show that the nation's highest court is poised to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
In an overwhelmingly Democratic city where reproductive healthcare is readily available, leading mayoral candidates including Rep. Karen Bass, Council Member Kevin de León, activist Gina Viola, City Attorney Mike Feuer, Council Member Joe Buscaino and real estate developer Rick Caruso quickly issued statements affirming their support for abortion rights.
But the issue at hand isn't whether candidates say they support abortion rights now. It's whether Caruso — a former Republican who is now one of the front-runners in the race to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti — supported abortion rights in the past, what changed and how much L.A. voters will care amid a campaign season dominated by discussion of homelessness and public safety.
Even in a potential post-Roe future, the mayor of Los Angeles is unlikely to have much control over reproductive healthcare access in the city, especially as state leaders rush forward on a new plan to explicitly protect abortion rights in the California Constitution through a statewide ballot measure.
But with the issue likely to dominate the national conversation in coming months, some of Caruso's opponents appear eager to make it a focal point in the mayor's race.
Caruso swung back sharply on Tuesday afternoon, releasing a statement pledging his financial support for Gov. Gavin Newsom's plan for a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights.
Caruso — who has already put more than $22 million into his mayoral campaign — said he would be forming a California political action committee to support Newsom's ballot measure, providing $100,000 in initial support and pledging $1 million toward the ballot measure.
Still, Caruso is taking fire from fellow candidates and the political arm of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles on his past financial support of politicians and causes opposed to abortion.
Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project Los Angeles County Action Fund, the local political arm of the national reproductive health care nonprofit, released a letter slamming Caruso for his past support of antiabortion politicians and organizations on Tuesday.
The letter calls on Caruso to clearly state and explain his stance on reproductive rights in writing, issue a public apology for "the countless actions you've taken that put women's health and well-being at risk" and participate in a listening session with reproductive rights leaders.
Caruso previously issued a full-throated defense of Roe hours after the draft opinion was published on Monday night, writing in a statement that he was "pro-choice," that he profoundly disagreed with the draft decision and that his position on the issue "has always been clear."
But a 2007 Los Angeles Magazine profile of Caruso painted a different picture. The story paraphrased Caruso's views on the subject from interviews with the developer, writing, "he says he opposes abortion in most cases but would support some stem cell research."
"We're not going to comment on any particular articles," Caruso spokesperson Lex Olbrei said when asked for clarification about the Los Angeles Magazine interview. "The bottom line is Rick has always been pro-choice and has always supported Roe vs. Wade."
Caruso has given extensive financial support to staunchly antiabortion politicians, including more than $240,000 to a super PACsupporting John Kasich's GOP presidential run in 2016, $100,000 to a PAC supporting President George W. Bush's reelection in 2004, $50,000 to a PAC supporting Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in 2017 and $4,300 to a committee supporting Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2007.
Caruso also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican party committees between 2003 and 2017.
Fellow mayoral candidate City Attorney Mike Feuer attacked Caruso's "anti-choice record" in a statement Tuesday morning.
"Elections are about core values. When it comes to a woman's right to choose, the choice is stark. I've always supported it. Rick Caruso hasn't. I have L.A. values. Rick Caruso doesn't."
When asked about Caruso's prior support of antiabortion politicians on Tuesday morning, Bass described Los Angeles as "overwhelmingly Democratic" and noted that Caruso had spent most of his life as a Republican.
"Our city is at a crossroads," she said. "Which direction are we going to go in? Are we going to go more toward an inclusive future that brings our very diverse city together? Or are we going to resurrect policies of the past that we know have not worked?"
An independent expenditure committee supporting Karen Bass' candidacy also plans to launch a 30-second digital ad Wednesday that attacks Caruso for his past support of the Republican National Committee and politicians such as McConnell and McCarthy. The committee operates independently of Bass' campaign and cannot legally coordinate with it.
"How did it get this bad? Republican billionaires like Rick Caruso giving away their fortunes to anti-choice Republicans and causes," the ad intones as stark black-and-white images of McCarthy, McConnell and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh transition to a photo of Caruso with the words "anti-choice" emblazoned over his face, according to a draft copy of the ad shown to The Times ahead of its release.
Times staff writer Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report.