Parental Notification Effort in California

Molly Tafoya

In November, Californians may be voting on a constitutional amendment requiring parental notification for teens seeking abortion care. The law may seem harmless, but in reality, its intention is to decrease instances of abortion by promoting parental intervention in teens' medical care.

Parental notification for abortion is a hot button issue — and could face California voters in the November election. Activists had until last Friday to collect enough signatures to put this issue on the ballot in November. Supporters of the parental notification amendment have rallied major financial contributors to support this initiative for the third time in three years. Signatures are still being counted, but because of the serious implications on reproductive health policy for teens, it's worth taking a close look now at the consequences the proposed amendment would have.

This amendment would require parental notification and a 48-hour waiting period before a young woman could obtain an abortion. If a doctor performs an abortion without first notifying the young woman's parents, she or he would be fined. On its face, the amendment appears harmless — it only requires notification, not parental consent. You might guess that its aim is to encourage dialogue between parents and their teenage children. Indeed, the text of the amendment reads:

"the People of California have a compelling interest in protecting minors from the known risks of secret abortions…The People also have a compelling interest in preventing sexual predators from using secret abortions to conceal sexual exploitation of minors"

suggesting that the state is attempting protect minors suffering from sexual abuse. But "from a real world perspective, these laws are not benign," says Maggie Crosby, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. "While there is a legal difference between consent and notification," Crosby notes, "they are virtually the same thing for many young women in this situation." In reality, the proposed amendment intends to reduce incidence of abortion by promoting parental intervention in teens' medical care.

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For teenagers who already have an open relationship with their parents, this amendment is null. However, it has the potential to seriously harm teenagers who do not have that kind of relationship. While there are amendment does offer exceptions, including one for the life of the young woman, Crosby points out that the scenarios the amendment anticipates are unrealistic. If a young woman goes to court and can prove to a judge that she is "sufficiently mature and well-informed to decide whether to have an abortion," then she doesn't have to notify her parents. Finally, if she can prove that there is a history of abuse in her family and that, by telling her parents about her intentions to have an abortion, she would be put at risk, she can waive the notification requirement by filing claim against the abusive parent.

But obtaining a judicial waiver is time consuming and intimidating. It requires time off from school, transportation to and from the court on two separate occasions, and requires having a face-to-face conversation with a judge to prove maturity. The abuse exception, too, is an irresponsible and unrealistic response to a very real concern. A young woman seeking abortion care is required to file an abuse claim against her abusive parent in order to waive the parental notification requirement. Essentially, it would require her to turn over an abusive parent to the authorities during an already stressful time. "This is a dangerous option for a teenager that it's impossible to think that it would really be invoked in the real world," says Crosby.

Mandating communication can only harm young women who need timely access to comprehensive reproductive health care. If these activists ultimately wish to protect young women, they would remove any barriers to a woman's right to obtaining safe and legal abortions. But that's not their goal. Instead, this is a thinly veiled attempt to curb women's reproductive rights. This amendment does nothing to address the root causes of teenage pregnancy, including access to comprehensive sex education and contraception, and the lack of funding for programs that provide these resources.

With this issue reappearing on the ballot for the third time, a coalition of supporters has signed on to fight this amendment. The first two amendments, Proposition 73 and Proposition 85, were both defeated at the ballot because of coalition support and massive public education campaigns. This year groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the ACLU affiliates in California have again joined in support of Campaign for Teen Safety, the grassroots organization aimed at defeating this amendment. Californians should know by mid-May whether or not voters will see this issue on their ballots yet again in November.

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