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November 08, 2005

BETWEEN THE "HALF A TRUTH" TV ads and the "always at dinnertime" recorded phone calls pitching one proposition or another, California's voters head to the polls today considerably confused. The most confusion, strangely enough, swirls around the seemingly simplest of the statewide ballot measures: Proposition 73, which would require a doctor to notify a minor's parents before she can have an abortion. Supporters have been casting this in terms certain to catch the sympathies of any parent. Who wouldn't want a young girl to have the support of her parents before she undergoes a potentially traumatic medical procedure?

That's probably why Proposition 73 is narrowly favored by likely voters, according to a recent Times Poll, even in this strongly pro-choice state. People see it as supporting parents in their efforts to raise their children, not for what it is: a masked attack on abortion rights that affects all Californians.

Embedded in the proposition is wording that defines abortion as causing the "death of an unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born." Because this is a constitutional amendment, those words -- which are based on a specific religious belief rather than on a universally accepted concept of when life begins -- would become part of the state's Constitution. The notion that life begins at conception would thus be enshrined in the California Constitution, providing a basis for legal arguments challenging a woman's right to an abortion or the rights of doctors to perform such procedures. Future court rulings would have to take this wording into account.

California doesn't need this. As it is, most girls tell their parents before getting an abortion. And the ones who most need to tell their parents are the ones most likely to do so: the youngest, most vulnerable girls. The state's teen abortion and pregnancy rates have been falling for years, and faster than elsewhere in the nation.

Just about everybody supports better parenting; that's what Proposition 73's supporters are counting on. But it's impossible to compel good family relations via edict, even one that is democratically enacted. What's worrisome about Proposition 73 is not its possible effect on families but its certain effect on the state Constitution. Adding legally troublesome wording to the Constitution will harm the rights of all women.

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