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Allow Abortion Consent Law's Use, Court Urged

January 14, 1988|PHILIP HAGER | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — State Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp on Wednesday asked the California Supreme Court to lift an injunction that has blocked enforcement of a new law requiring unmarried minors to get consent from a parent or judge before they obtain an abortion.

Van de Kamp also urged the high court to intervene in the heated dispute over the legal validity of the law and decide now whether the measure is constitutional.

The move set the stage for the justices' first major ruling on the politically sensitive abortion issue since a conservative majority emerged on the court after the 1986 election defeat of Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and two other court members.

Governor's Position

The parental-consent law was supported by Gov. George Deukmejian, who has appointed five of the seven justices now sitting on the court.

Last month, a Superior Court judge in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction preventing the law from taking effect Jan. 1 as scheduled, pending trial of a suit brought by opponents of the measure who claim it violates the state constitutional right to privacy.

Van de Kamp and the district attorneys of the state's 58 counties, all named as defendants in the suit, urged the justices to order the law into effect without delay while they consider its constitutionality.

The prosecutors contend the law legitimately encourages unmarried girls to consult with their parents or rely on an impartial judicial process rather than having their medical decisions "made for them by the abortion provider."

Balancing Rights

While minors are protected by the Constitution, the law also recognizes that their rights are limited and must be balanced with the rights of parents to exercise care and control of their children, the prosecutors said.

Opponents of the law asked the high court to reject Van de Kamp's request. The law represents "a radical departure from the status quo" by imposing a new requirement for pregnant teen-agers who since 1971 have been able to obtain abortions without parental or judicial consent, they said in a brief filed Wednesday by San Francisco attorney Linda E. Shostak. The new measure, Shostak said, "will also result in the creation of permanent government files which identify California adolescents who are sexually active, have become pregnant and who sought abortions without parental knowledge."

Under the new law, unmarried females under 18 must obtain consent from one parent, a guardian or a juvenile court judge to get an abortion, unless there is a medical emergency.

The court procedure provides for confidential and expedited proceedings. Judges must approve the abortion if they find the minor is sufficiently mature and informed to consent to the abortion or that an abortion is in her "best interest." No fees or costs are charged to minors.

At present, more than 30,000 abortions a year are performed on unmarried minors in California without the requirement of parental or judicial approval. Under the previous law, which remains in effect temporarily, a woman of any age can get an abortion as long as a physician finds she has made an informed and voluntary decision.

Challenge to Law

In November, a coalition of medical groups, represented by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit challenging the new law. The plaintiffs argued the measure would cause many minors, fearing parental reprisal, to bear unwanted children or risk their health by delaying or trying to induce abortions themselves.

The next month, Superior Court Judge Morton R. Colvin barred enforcement of the law, finding that there was a "reasonable likelihood" the challengers would prevail at trial and that the law would cause "irreparable harm" if it was in effect in the interim. A state Court of Appeal voted 2-1 to allow Colvin's order to stand.

In a petition filed Wednesday by state Deputy Atty. Gen. Elisabeth C. Brandt, the officials defending the law argued that the measure is likely to be found constitutional. They said if it is not enforced, there will be "irreparable harm" to many minors too immature to make the difficult choice on abortion without assistance from a parent or court.

The petition said the new law had been carefully written to avoid the legal pitfalls of legislation in other states that has been struck down in the courts.

'Right of the People'

Permission of only one parent is necessary, there is no mandatory waiting period and, if the minor seeks approval from a judge, parents are not informed of the action, the officials pointed out.

The petition urged the justices to intercede "in this very important case" to uphold "the right of the people to cause their elected representatives to change laws which have been found to have detrimental consequences."

Votes from four of the seven justices are required to put the law into effect while its constitutionality is determined in court.

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