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Voters again face abortion consent bid

Prop. 4 has new provisions on parental notification. But foes say the measure still could endanger girls.

September 24, 2008|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Californians might have a sense of deja vu when they vote in November on Proposition 4, a ballot measure that would require doctors to notify a parent or other adult family member before an abortion is performed on a minor.

Similar measures were put before the voters in 2005 and 2006 and lost by slim margins both times.

Polls show that the most recent proposal is still struggling to gain support from a majority of voters, but backers such as winemaker Don Sebastiani and publisher Jim Holman say they are determined to accomplish this year what they didn't previously. And they have changed the measure's text to address some criticisms of those earlier proposals.

Holman, who publishes the San Diego Reader, an alternative newspaper, has put about $5 million of his own money into the three initiatives, including more than $1.5 million of the $2.3 million raised this year.

In explanation, Holman says he has four daughters. He is also a veteran of sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics.

Opposition to the measure, organized as the "Campaign for Teen Safety," is led by Planned Parenthood and California chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union. The campaign has raised more than $3 million so far.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, September 26, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Abortion measure: A headline in Wednesday's California section on an article about Proposition 4 said "Voters again face abortion consent bid," which inaccurately characterized the measure. Proposition 4 would bar abortion for unemancipated minors until 48 hours after a doctor had notified the minor's parent or legal guardian, but it would not require the consent of the parent or guardian.

Opponents argue that parental notification laws can endanger young women who become pregnant.

"They don't increase family communication," ACLU attorney Maggie Crosby said during a legislative hearing last week. "What they do is say for teens in unhappy homes that they must either navigate a court system, travel out of state or turn in desperation to illegal . . . and dangerous abortion procedures."

The measure's supporters point out that, in California, parental notification is required before minors are allowed to do many things that do not involve a medical procedure.

"It's insane," Sebastiani said. "I'm completely mystified that you need to get a mom's permission to get an aspirin at school, you need to get a mom's permission to go to a tanning salon, but you can go in and have your baby aborted [without notification]. Something is wrong."

Proposition 4 would amend the state Constitution to bar abortion for unemancipated minors until 48 hours after a physician had notified the minor's parent or legal guardian. The measure would also require the minor to give consent.

In 2006, about 46% of California voters supported Proposition 85, which also would have required parental notification at least 48 hours before a minor obtained an abortion. In 2005, just over 47% of voters cast ballots in favor of Proposition 73, a similar measure.

Campaigns against the earlier measures said such laws could put young women at risk in cases in which a parent had caused the pregnancy or the minor feared physical harm if she told her parents.

To address that criticism, the latest proposal was revised to allow the required notification to be made to other adult family members, such as a grandparent or sibling, if the attending physician reports known or suspected child abuse by the parent to law enforcement or a child protective services agency.

It also would allow judges to waive the notice requirement based on evidence of the minor's maturity or best interest in having an abortion.

A parent also could give a minor a written note ahead of time waiving notification, and waivers would be allowed in medical emergencies.

Holman hopes the additions will persuade voters to support the measure this time.

But the same groups that fought the earlier propositions also oppose the new one.

Among other issues, they say they are concerned that the measure would expose doctors who violate it to significant civil damages because of lawsuits by parents.

Crosby, the ACLU attorney, said she believes that provision is part of an effort to put abortion clinics and doctors out of business through litigation.

Opponents also say that requiring notification could endanger teenagers by making them wait to seek the procedure until late in their pregnancies. Some teens may try to abort the fetus themselves or with help from an unqualified person, the opponents say.

"Any parental notification laws put a wedge between the patient and the physician," said Ruth Haskins, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Folsom, near Sacramento, who is active in an association of physicians opposing the measure. "The result is a delay in treatment."'

Sebastiani, who has grown daughters and has donated about $1 million to the three initiatives, said he is particularly worried about adult men who may impregnate underage girls and then push them to use abortion as a form of contraception.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also supports the measure.

"I think there should be a notification of the parents," he said recently on NBC's "Meet The Press." "I have two daughters myself. I would not want to have someone in the school take my daughter to a clinic to get an abortion without telling me or my wife."

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