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Can Your Daughter Get An Abortion Without You Knowing? The Battle Over California's Proposition 73 | Valerie Schmalz | August 8, 2005

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Diana Lopez’s daughter was brought to the Planned Parenthood clinic by the daughter’s boyfriend’s mother, after picking her up from school in San Diego. When Ms. Lopez learned of this and raced to the clinic, the clinic personnel barred her from seeing her daughter.

"What? She's only 13 and I'm her mother! I want to be there with her!" Lopez said. Lopez also spoke to a supervisor, who, she said, threatened to call the police when Lopez got into a heated discussion with the boyfriend's mother. Lopez said that Planned Parenthood sent her daughter home with painkillers, antibiotics, and birth control pills but did not speak with Lopez regarding aftercare instructions. Lopez insists that had she known her daughter was pregnant, she would have urged her to have the baby. (Source: Parents Right to Know/Yes on Proposition 73 site

If you were a 16-year-old girl would you want your Mom to know you were seeking an abortion? What if you were 13?

Backers of the California Parents Right to Know initiative, Proposition 73, are betting that Mom and Dad would want to know–no matter what their beliefs about a woman’s "right" to an abortion.

The case of a San Diego mother of four whose 13-year-old daughter had an abortion during school hours–while her mother was barred from the room by abortion clinic personnel–is one of the key examples cited by proponents of Proposition 73.

"Whatever she decides is going to impact her for the rest of her life. She really needs the involvement of those who love her and know her best," said Michaelene Fredenburg, president of San Diego-based Life Perspectives and an abortion survivor. Life Perspectives reached 375,000 individuals through its high school education program in the past five years in the San Diego area, according to its literature.

In most Western states, in Illinois, and along much of the East Coast a minor daughter can obtain an abortion, often with the complicity of her school counselor or other school officials, during school hours, without the knowledge of a parent or guardian, according to Americans United for Life and its ideological opponent, Planned Parenthood Federation (PDF file).

Protecting Young Girls From Older Predators

When parents can be kept out of the picture, older men have a license to prey on young girls without being caught, Fredenburg said. "Certainly what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from high school is that these men can enter into relationships with young girls who are easier for them to control and manipulate and these men know if a pregnancy results, they do not have to be responsible for it," Fredenburg said. Parental notification will give the girls "some power" to say no, she said: "Teen-age girls are extremely vulnerable."

In California, Medi-Cal abortions are available to every pregnant woman, without regard to age, state of residence, or income. About a third of the state’s abortions are Medi-Cal, Yes on Prop. 73 spokesman Albin Rhomberg said.

The state legislative analyst (PDF) estimates the measure would reduce minor abortions by 25 percent.

The initiative would reduce minor abortions paid for by the state, Rhomberg said, because it would require the state to comply with parental notification since "the state is supposed to follow its own laws, even if there are no penalties."

Largely because California is strongly pro-abortion in its voting patterns, Proposition 73 is weaker than the legislative model recommended by Americans United for Life, containings no criminal penalties. However, it has a detailed reporting requirement that is designed to protect the names of the girls who get abortions but makes public the names of the doctors.

Instead of state enforcement, California’s Proposition 73 gives parents the right to sue an abortion provider if the provider does not notify them of their daughter’s impending abortion. Under the proposition, the scheduled provider of the abortion is required to give at least one parent, or legal guardian, written notice that their minor daughter (under 18 years of age) has scheduled an abortion. The notice must be received by the parent 48 hours before the scheduled abortion.

Except in cases of medical emergency or when medical incapacity precludes the minor’s consent, the initiative explicitly says she may not be coerced into undergoing an abortion by anyone, whether a boyfriend, boyfriend’s parent(s), abortion provider or even their own parent. The initiative permits "judicial relief if the minor’s consent to abortion (is) coerced."

Unaware of Abortion’s Seriousness

Young girls tend not to realize abortion is a serious medical procedure that requires post-operative care and observation, said Prof. Teresa Stanton Collett, law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"Many minors may ignore or deny the seriousness of post-abortion symptoms or may lack the financial resources to respond to those symptoms," Ms. Collett told a U.S. House of Representatives committee. Some of the most serious complications are delayed, yet, only about one-third of all abortion patients actually keep their appointments for post-operative checkups, she said.

"Absent parental notification, hemorrhaging may be mistaken for a heavy period and severe depression as typical teenage angst," Ms. Collett said in her testimony. Ms. Collett was instrumental in crafting the California initiative, said Yes on Prop. 73 spokesman Rhomberg.

Ms. Collett was testifying in support of federal legislation that would bar an abortion provider from performing an abortion on an out of state minor without parental permission. The bill, HR 748 passed the House of Representatives 270-157 and is now before the U.S. Senate.

General Support for Parental Notification

Nationwide, most people support parental notification as long as a judicial bypass is included in the legislation, as required by past rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, Rhomberg said. A judicial bypass means the girl may ask a judge to allow her to obtain an abortion without telling her parents. In case of a medical emergency, parental notification is not required.

A June 22, 2005, Field Poll found 48 percent of likely California voters in favor and 43 percent opposed, but so far Proposition 73 has received very little publicity. The California Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops, plans to issue a statement in support near the end of the summer, a Conference official said.

The California initiative is "very unlikely" to be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear arguments this fall in the case of New Hampshire’s parental notification law involving disputes over the phrasing of its medical emergency exception, Rhomberg said. California’s initiative contains a medical emergency exception in full compliance with all existing U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Rhomberg said.

Meanwhile, within California, there is talk of calling off the November 8 special election because of problems with some of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voting and budget initiatives unrelated to this issue. If that happens, the initiative would go before voters at the next election, likely in June 2006.

California Law Weak, But Tough to Challenge in Courts

If Proposition 73 is approved by voters–and it promises to be a difficult fight with pro-abortion groups including NARAL Pro-Choice California, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU lining up to oppose it–California would become the only West Coast state to require parental consent. The California initiative is exceptionally weak–it is a constitutional amendment without criminal penalties, which NARAL Pro-Choice California says on its website would make legal challenges "not an option."

"Ours is exceedingly weak, deliberately," Rhomberg told IgnatiusInsight.com. "We depend entirely on civil enforcement. The aggrieved party has the right to go to court."

Backing Proposition 73 are two strongly pro-life California activists as well as Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza and, more recently, of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida. On its website, NARAL Pro-Choice California describes these backers, including newspaper owner Jim Holman and former state Assemblyman and winemaker Don Sebastiani, as "some of the most conservative, right-wing donors in California." The NARAL-California website notes that in 1990, Holman pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges stemming from abortion clinic protests and that he has contributed or loaned close to $1.3 million to the campaign, most to gather signatures.

"None of this really affects the basic question which is who can best make the decision for children–their parents or a stranger who has monetary gain," Holman told Insight, referring to the abortion providers who under existing law may perform an abortion on any minor at state expense. "This other stuff, I think it shows the weakness of their case that they would want to do the ad hominem arguments--but I did expect them."

Related IgnatiusInsight.com link: Fighting for a Healthcare Culture of Life: An Interview with Mike O’Dea, founder of Christus Medicus Foundation
| Valerie Schmalz | August 8, 2005

Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.

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