A judge in San Francisco on Monday blocked enforcement of a new state law requiring unwed minors to obtain parental consent or a court order before having an abortion.
In a brief order, Superior Court Judge Morton Colvin granted the American Civil Liberties Union's request for a preliminary injunction preventing the hotly debated law from taking effect on Friday.
State officials said an appeal is likely, but opponents of the new law predicted that it would be difficult to obtain a writ reversing the court's injunction before the end of the year. A full trial on the case is not expected for at least a year.
Full Hearing on Case
In his preliminary review, the judge did not rule on assertions that the law, whose backers claim widespread public support, violates California's constitutional right to privacy. But the court did say there is "reasonable likelihood" that the law would be found unconstitutional, and also found that "irreparable injury" would result unless enforcement is blocked pending a full hearing on the case.
"Implicit in the order is a finding that he (the judge) thinks we state a pretty good cause of action, and our theories are well beyond pie-in-the-sky," said Linda Shostak, a cooperating attorney for the ACLU, which argued that the law would force pregnant teen-agers to risk their health by delaying abortions or trying to self-induce abortions.
But proponents predicted that the California Supreme Court would ultimately uphold the law.
"I think that some families will suffer as a result of this, in not being able to get this into law when we had planned," said Assemblyman Robert Frazee (R-Carlsbad), author of the bill.
"The basic issue here, and one in which I think we ultimately will prevail, is whether or not parents' rights are superior to the rights of their children. I think that's something that is basic to the human family from as far back in recorded history as we can find."
The new statute, signed into law Sept. 27 with the backing of a number of anti-abortion and religious organizations, requires unwed girls under 18 to obtain either the consent of one parent or an order from the Juvenile Court before obtaining an abortion.
The court is empowered to authorize an abortion even when parents have refused to give their consent, but the court in any case must find that the minor is sufficiently mature to make her own decision, or that an abortion is in the minor's best interest. The law permits minors to apply to the courts under a pseudonym and provides that such applications are kept confidential.
Doctors who knowingly perform abortions on minors without parental or court approval are subject to misdemeanor criminal penalties.
Although no official statistics are kept, it is estimated that about 30,000 abortions are performed each year on girls under 18 in California. The state Judicial Council, which helped develop guidelines for the courts' use in implementing the law, estimated that 10,000 to 12,000 minors a year would seek court hearings under the new law.
The law now requires only that minors give "informed consent" for an abortion in consultation with doctors.
Blocked by Court Orders
Across the country, 10 states have enacted laws requiring parental or court notification for abortions, but five of those laws have been blocked by court orders. Twelve states require parental or court consent, but courts in four of those states have suspended the laws.
Supporters of the California legislation say the statute was carefully drawn to meet the standards outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court in rejecting many of the other laws. California's statute, for instance, requires the consent of only one parent, not both. It does not require any waiting period before obtaining an abortion, and parents are not required to accompany their child to a clinic.
"This law is right in keeping with what the U.S. Supreme Court has said that states can do regarding this issue," said Barbara Alby, executive director of the Women's Lobby, which has helped organize a legal defense fund to defend the bill. "This is not over with. We're going to have parental consent in this state, no doubt about it."
Plaintiffs in the case, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Medical Assn., the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Planned Parenthood of Alameda and San Francisco counties, argued that the specific right of privacy written into California's Constitution provides stronger protection against parental consent laws than the more generalized privacy right recognized in the U.S. Constitution.
Alternatively, the plaintiffs argued that it is unconstitutional to pass a statute that requires consent for abortions but does not require consent for the decision to carry on with a pregnancy.