California preys on gays, teens

Nov. 4 initiatives: You can't get married or have an abortion.

By Lynn Harris
Published October 15, 2008 1:12PM (EDT)

What's the matter with California? First it turns out that -- despite the help of our man Brad -- polls suggest that a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage in the state may actually have a prayer of passing. And now, as if Proposition 8 weren't reason enough to get us to the polls (or at least here), Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, and many others, remind us that Proposition 4 (PDF) sucks, too. Just as South Dakota's defeated abortion ban has again reared its now-even-uglier head, California's attempt to mandate parental notification for minors seeking abortions has zombied its way back from the dead -- for the third time in four years -- with the clear intent of eating voters' braaaaaains. The San Jose Mercury News called Prop. 4 "the most deceptive measure on the California ballot this fall."

The packaging alone is bad enough. "The proposition's misleading nature starts out with its name: Sarah's Law. Supporters want you to hear the sobering story of 'Sarah,' a 15-year-old girl who didn't tell her parents she was pregnant and then died after an abortion. Except" -- according to the Mercury News -- "'Sarah' didn't live in California. She lived in Texas and was considered married under Texas law [a common-law marriage, I believe], so any parental notification law wouldn't have applied to her. And her name isn't Sarah, it's Jamie Garcia Yanez-Villegas. Most telling of all, her tragic death took place in 1994. That means when Proposition 4 backers went looking for a story to illustrate the need for a parental notification law, they couldn't find a better example in the past decade." Or in white people.

Now, about these laws in general. Said it before, saying it again: Parental interference laws, 7th Heaven though they might sound, do not promote "communication" or "teen safety" (PDF). Given that most pregnant teens tell their parents anyway, they are a disingenuous and cynical means of chipping away at the rights conferred by Roe v. Wade and stigmatizing abortion in the public perception. They leave less fortunate minors in danger of abusive parents, delays in healthcare and risky trips across state lines. And teens, you will recall, don't vote.

On to Prop. 4 itself. Just as South Dakota's proposed abortion ban offers "exceptions" that only prove its supporters' intentions (no exceptions at all), Prop. 4 offers "alternatives" (PDF) that ... aren't. Hey, if you don't want to go to your mean old parents, no problem: You can plead your case to some random total-stranger judge (as if even grown-ups would know where to start with that). Or -- and this, says the News, is where the law sinks to a "new low" -- you must submit a written statement accusing a parent of mistreatment, specifying that you fear physical, sexual or emotional abuse. And this, it should be noted, will trigger a police response. "So," according to the News, "a girl trying to deal with a pregnancy could quickly be mired in a child abuse investigation involving the parents she was afraid to talk to in the first place." Win-win!

More info here, and here, if you're inspired. Prop. 4, along with 8, must be lose-lose on Nov. 4.


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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