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Abortion Initiative Puts Focus on Girls' Welfare

Backers and foes of Proposition 85 disagree on the ramifications of parental notification.

October 17, 2006|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

No matter which side people take in the debate on Proposition 85, they generally agree on this: Parents like to know what their children do.

What opponents and supporters passionately disagree on is this: whether the state should require abortion providers to inform a parent about an underage daughter's request for an abortion -- and whether that helps protect her.

Proposition 85 would amend the state Constitution to bar abortions for any patient under 18 until 48 hours after her parent or guardian had been notified by a physician. Only girls facing a medical emergency or obtaining a judicial waiver would be exempt.

The initiative does not require parental consent. After the waiting period, a minor would still have the legal right to an abortion. But both sides say a parent's strong opposition could alter an underage daughter's plans.

Supporters of the ballot initiative point out that no other medical procedures for minors are afforded confidentiality. Campaign spokesman Albin Rhomberg, a retired physicist, said minors "need to be protected from their immaturity and vulnerability."

"These girls who think these sexual predators on the Internet are Prince Charming -- how can [parents] be responsible ... if the abortion is secret?"

Supporters contend that parental notification would help thwart sex between underage girls and adult men, stating in the official voter information guide that "secret abortions on minors in California are rarely reported to child protective services although these pregnancies are evidence of statutory rape and sexual abuse."

Critics of the proposition say they never would withhold information about a pregnancy they believed was the result of rape or sexual abuse.

"They're trying to say our staff, our healthcare professionals, are aiding and abetting child sexual predators, and we find that to be ludicrous, unsubstantiated, and we're not going to let them get away with it," said Kathy Kneer, the chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. Planned Parenthood, a major financial backer of the campaign to defeat the initiative, expects to raise $5 million, according to Kneer.

Said Susan Baldwin, an L.A. County public health doctor and a former medical director of Planned Parenthood in Tucson: "Healthcare providers are required by law to report abuse of a minor. And when girls come in pregnant, there's a policy for a girl under a certain age; it's a red flag. A 14-year-old comes in pregnant, it's not swept under the rug."

The major backers of the Proposition 85 campaign are James Holman, publisher of the weekly San Diego Reader, and former state Assemblyman Don Sebastiani, a Sonoma County vintner whose company produces Smoking Loon and Pepperwood Grove wines.

This is the second go-round for a parental notification initiative. Proponents say last year's offering, part of a long special election ballot, was a victim of the mass anti-initiative fervor in California. It also would have inserted a controversial definition of abortion into the state Constitution.

This year, with the initiative reworded, supporters say it stands a better chance.

On both sides of the issue, advocates point to extreme cases of girls in other states who became distraught, either because they did not tell a parent about an abortion or because they were required to tell a parent. (Notification laws are currently in effect in 34 states.)

Both sides say a pregnant teen is facing a serious issue.

An abortion "has implications for a young woman's mental, physical and emotional health," said Mary Davenport, an obstetrician-gynecologist who practices in El Sobrante and is a supporter of Proposition 85. "I think that decision should involve her parents."

Davenport, 59, who performed abortions as a young doctor but is now opposed to the procedure, is one of the authors of the official argument for Proposition 85.

Critics of the initiative argue that communication between a parent and a child cannot be legislated. Those teens who want to tell their parents will do so, with or without a law, and most generally do, according to doctors opposing the initiative. Those who do not want to tell their parents will not.

"The scariest thing about this law is that it jeopardizes the most vulnerable women," said L.A. County's Baldwin, 39, who has performed abortions. Opponents of the initiative stress that some minors fear abuse if they inform a parent. "Sometimes notification doesn't lead to the best outcome for the patient.... The main thing is for them to get help and get care right away -- whether they're going to terminate or have the baby."

Opponents of Proposition 85 say the notification measure will be defeated again. On Aug. 2, the Field Poll released data indicating that 45% of voters opposed the measure and 44% supported it. Last year's Proposition 73 was defeated 53% to 47%.

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