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Wrong proposition

October 09, 2005

TEEN PREGNANCY AND ABORTION RATES have been declining in California for years, and most pregnant girls tell a parent before getting an abortion. So Proposition 73, requiring doctors to inform a minor's parents before performing an abortion, has little to offer this state -- and much to take away. It adds to the court system's burdens, threatens to apply only to poorer teens and introduces troubling language to the state's Constitution.

Knowing that this is a strongly pro-choice state, the proposition's backers are reassuring voters that they don't have to be anti-abortion to support the initiative. You just have to favor a lower teen-abortion rate, they say, and better communication between parent and child.

But there is little evidence that parental notification -- which is the law in more than 30 states -- has led to significant reductions in teen abortions.

According to a recent USC report, studies have found that any reductions in those states mostly reflect teenagers going to other states for their abortions.

Further, California, without any such law, already has experienced steeper declines in teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates than the national average.

It's nice to think that all girls feel comfortable talking to their parents about sex, birth control and abortion. Nice, but absurd.

As it happens, most girls do talk to at least one parent before having an abortion, USC reports, and the younger they are, the more likely they are to seek out a parent. But girls from abusive households are among those least likely to tell their parents, for obvious reasons.

For those girls, the initiative includes an option to seek a court waiver of the requirement. This the sort of ploy that makes sense to upper-middle-class adults, particularly those who spend their time crafting ballot initiatives, but not to impoverished, naive and frightened girls who have no idea how to negotiate the legal system and fear getting involved in it.

Moneyed girls, of course, would be able to evade the whole thing by going to Nevada or Oregon. Poor and working-class girls would be stuck.

The added paperwork and threat of civil lawsuits if the medical staff fails to carry out the entire notification process properly would almost certainly increase costs and reduce further the number of clinics and doctors willing to perform abortions, which already has dwindled. That limits choices for all women, regardless of age and situation.

Perhaps most alarming, the initiative sneaks in wording that defines abortion as causing the "death of an unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born." So much for the notion that this isn't about taking sides in the broader abortion debate.

Since Proposition 73 would be a constitutional amendment, this would glue into the state's Constitution anti-abortion language that proponents undoubtedly hope would serve as a foot in the door in their efforts to erode what is now a constitutional right to seek an abortion.

Society can and should encourage parents and children to talk about sexual responsibility and other vital issues, but it cannot constitutionally mandate an Ozzie-and-Harriet world.

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