Calif. Prop. 73 could 86 teen girls' health and safety

Parental notification measure gets even worse in the fine print.

Published November 2, 2005 7:19PM (EST)

NPR this morning covered the current controversy over California's Proposition 73, which would require a doctor to notify parents before performing an abortion on a girl 17 or younger. While the most recent poll shows the ballot measure losing in the Nov. 8 special election, it's way too soon to breathe easy -- especially if other states copycat some of this law's finer-print provisions.

Samuel Alito aside, parental consent and notification requirements -- in effect in 35 states -- are among the biggest threats to abortion rights in this country today. "Save Roe?" On it. But for millions of women -- young, poor, bound by specious "waiting periods" and "counseling" sessions, or living in one of the 87 percent of U.S. counties with no abortion provider -- Roe already means nothing. And teens are a particularly tempting target: Laws that purport to look out for them are an easy sell. Also, teens don't vote.

Research shows that most teens involve their parents in abortion decisions voluntarily. (The girls who stay at my house via New York's Haven Coalition, which arranges housing for out-of-state patients seeking abortions, come with their moms more often than not.) Those who don't usually have good reason not to. As in: Their parents, or parent, will kill them. Literally. What, you ask, about the option of getting permission instead from a judge, which most such laws -- including Prop. 73 -- include? Sure, if you call scheduling, waiting for and traveling to an appointment with a Superior Court judge while you should be in school, and while your pregnancy is advancing, an "option."

And speaking of judges, here's something about Prop. 73 that NPR missed. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the measure "would require each court to issue a public report once a year on how many abortion requests each judge has granted and denied."

Sure, such a report -- which is evidently not required for any other type of case in California, and which would differ from other states' statistical procedures by listing judges by name -- might make it easier for a gal to shop for a sympathetic judicial ear. But something tells me that's not the intention of this provision.

According to the Chronicle, "Some foes of Prop. 73 say the provision seems designed for political campaigns. They envision a political attack in a conservative area that would go something like this: 'Judge X allowed young girls to secretly kill their unborn babies in nine cases out of 10 last year.' In a liberal area, such an attack could say this: 'Judge X forced young women to give birth nine times out of 10.'"

Added Kathy Kneer, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California: "That (provision) can only serve as a means to put judges on notice that they could be the target of possible activity -- protesting, or they could be targeted in their re-election campaign. How does this improve parent-teen communications, if that's what this initiative is about?"

See? 'Cause that's not what it's about. The provision also goes out of its way to define abortion as a procedure that intentionally causes "the death of the unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born." As the Chronicle points out, that description "differs from the current definition of abortion under state law as a 'medical treatment intended to induce the termination of a pregnancy.'" Drafters of Prop. 73 apparently purloined this terminology from an 1872 -- not a typo -- law that "refers expressly to an unborn child and defines an infant's right to sue for harm caused by prenatal injuries."

A spokesman for the "Yes on 73" campaign insists that the measure will not affect abortion rights beyond the notification requirement. As the provision states: "Nothing in this section (of the state Constitution) shall be construed to grant, secure, or deny any other rights, duties, privileges, conditions and limitations relating to abortion or the funding thereof."

And as a teenager might reply: "What-EVER."

For more about Prop. 73 and how to help stop it, check in with California NOW and the Campaign for Teen Safety.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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