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Court Voids Parental Consent Abortion Law : Ruling: Appellate justices say 1987 measure calling for a minor to get approval violates the state Constitution. Law has not been enforced.

July 02, 1994|JENIFER WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — A controversial law requiring minors to obtain parental or judicial consent for an abortion was declared unconstitutional Friday by a state appellate court panel.

The three-justice panel said the law--passed by the Legislature in 1987 but never enforced because of legal challenges--violates a minor's right to privacy under the California Constitution.

Lawyers for the state argued that girls under age 18 are unable to make informed decisions about pregnancy, making them vulnerable to serious medical, emotional or psychological harm from an abortion. The law, they argued, is a justifiable governmental attempt to protect teen-agers and strengthen the parent-child relationship.

But the 1st District Court of Appeal--in a 3-0 ruling written by Justice William Stein--concluded that the law would do nothing of the sort and might in fact damage the well-being of minors and family harmony.

The law "forces the minor to divulge her procreative choice against her wishes," Stein wrote. "In addition, a minor who cannot or will not obtain parental consent is required to divulge a highly intimate choice to a complete stranger (a judge) . . . in an extremely stressful proceeding."

Moreover, Stein added, "this legislation creates the possibility that a minor will be compelled to bear a child against her wishes. It would be hard to imagine a more egregious breach of social norms."

Friday's ruling was the latest twist in a widely watched test of the state's ability to regulate abortion. A spokesman for Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren expressed disappointment with the decision and said there would be an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"This is an issue important to California and it should be considered by the state's highest court," said spokesman Dave Puglia.

The law requires unwed minors to get parental approval--or the consent of a Juvenile Court--before obtaining an abortion. It would affect about 30,000 unmarried adolescents who have abortions each year in California.

Recent surveys show that 25 states enforce similar laws. Before California's could take effect in 1988, a coalition of health and family planning groups filed suit, contending that the restriction infringed on a minor's right to reproductive choice. A series of court injunctions have barred the law's enforcement ever since.

In 1992, a San Francisco Superior Court judge declared the law unconstitutional after hearing a month of testimony from medical and family planning experts and researchers who had investigated the effect of laws in other states.

In Friday's ruling, the appellate court said testimony had supported the judge's finding. For two decades, Stein noted, minors have been undergoing abortions without parental involvement--with no apparent negative effects.

Minors, he wrote, "are at no special psychological or emotional risk from abortion and, indeed, are less likely than adults to experience any adverse . . . reaction to the procedure."

Critics of the law praised the court for a ruling they called thoughtful and in the best interest of California's young women.

"It's very gratifying to see a court actually look at the evidence and tell the Legislature it can't justify this kind of invasion of privacy on the basis of this proof," said attorney Linda Shostak, who represents the coalition of groups challenging the law.

One of those groups--the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists--said the court had taken "a very positive step to ensure that vulnerable young women have continued access to reproductive health services."

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