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Choosing choice

September 25, 2006

A YEAR AFTER CALIFORNIA voters rejected an almost identical proposal, they are being asked again to approve a ballot proposition to require that parents be notified before a minor can have an abortion. A particularly objectionable phrase from the old version has been stripped out, but that doesn't fix the main problem:

Proposition 85 is an unnecessary measure that would do the state more harm than good.

Most adults can agree that the ideal scenario for a pregnant girl is to tell her loving and supportive parents about her situation and receive their guidance and help. That ideal scenario, or something like it, occurs more often than you might think, and without government coercion. The majority of girls do tell their parents. And the younger and more vulnerable they are, the more likely they are to do so.

But there are many less-than-ideal families in which girls do not talk to their parents, sometimes understandably: if molestation by a family member, for instance, led to the pregnancy.

Proposition 73, last year's parental notification measure, lost by a narrow margin. In an apparent attempt to tilt popular opinion in their favor, the authors of the new measure omitted a phrase from the previous initiative that raised public hackles. It would have embedded into the state Constitution wording that implies life begins at conception.

Although Proposition 85 avoids such a politically incorrect pitfall, it still contains the same troubling provisions. And it remains part of a broader campaign to chisel away at a woman's right to privacy.

By requiring doctors to notify a girl's parents (or seek court permission) before she can end her pregnancy, Proposition 85 interferes with the doctor-patient relationship. The measure would almost invariably delay abortions, and because teens are more likely to find out later rather than sooner that they are pregnant, it could lead to more later-term procedures, which are riskier and more complicated.

For girls who are afraid to report molestation by a family member, the proposition would create an almost insurmountable obstacle. Similar laws in other states have not appreciably changed teen pregnancy or abortion rates. Meanwhile, California's teen pregnancy and abortion rates in the last several years have declined faster than the national average.

Supporters of failed ballot propositions have a way of coming back in the hopes that a change in voter turnout will make the difference. Voters shouldn't be fooled. Proposition 73 was a bad idea last year, and Proposition 85 is a bad idea now. Voters should once again reject the parental notification initiative.

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