Among the propositions up for voter approval this month, none captures the emotions — good, bad and everything in between — as much as Proposition 73, a proposed amendment to the California Constitution that would require parents to be notified before their underage girls have abortions.
Proponents say Proposition 73 is a way to protect children who are undergoing a serious medical procedure. Opponents, however, believe that such parental or guardian notification could prove to be dangerous for young girls in trouble.
“In our experience, the majority of teens we serve do involve their parents — but the young women who do not, most often don’t because they cannot,” said Christine Lyon, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. “Sometimes, the person responsible for the pregnancy is in the household and it just wouldn’t be safe for them to involve their parents.”
Stan Devereux, spokesman for the Yes on Proposition 73 Campaign, argues that, according to the proposition, kids can appeal to a judge if they are unable to talk to their parents. “Let’s say she can’t talk to either one of them about it,” Devereux explained. “She could fill out the proper forms and have the opportunity to meet privately with a judge.”
However, opponents also worry that the language of the proposition, which states that abortions “cause the death of the unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born,” both falsely identifies embryos and fetuses as children and undermines the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which overturned all state laws outlawing or restricting abortion.
“I think that, when you look at the language of the proposition — that they identify embryos as unborn children from the point of conception — what does that have to do with notifying parents?” Lyon asked.
The proposition would require that written notice — on a form designed by the California Department of Health Services — of impending abortions be either hand delivered by a physician or physician’s agent or sent by certified mail. If the notice is sent via certified mail, another copy of the notice would also be sent by first-class mail.
In addition, the proposition would require that 48 hours pass between the time of the delivery of the notice and the date of the abortion. Parents could opt to waive the notification by filling out a waiver, and the waiver would have to be notarized unless personally delivered to the physician or physician’s agent. Notice is not required if the abortion is deemed necessary due to a medical emergency.
If a girl is pregnant and doesn’t want her parents to know, she can file a petition with the juvenile court. Afterward, a judge would have to find “clear and convincing evidence” that the girl is fit to have an abortion. If the judge finds that the girl is unfit, she would be free to appeal the decision.
Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters and a broad base of doctors, nurses, health care providers, educators and civil rights and women’s groups make up the Campaign for Teen Safety, which has mobilized against Proposition 73 in every county in the state.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has also taken a stand on the proposition: “Teens facing unintended pregnancies need counseling from caring adults, not a ballot initiative that could endanger their lives. Proposition 73 won’t decrease teen pregnancy or increase family communication, but it will endanger the lives of our most vulnerable teens, especially those in abusive homes.”
Likewise, the Yes on Proposition 73 forces have secured backing from several sources, including Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan and alternative newspaper publisher and devout Catholic James E. Holman, co-founder of the San Diego Reader and publisher of four small Catholic newspapers. Holman reportedly contributed over $1 million to the campaign. Holman is not granting interviews.
“This isn’t about Jim Holman,” Devereux said when asked if Holman’s stance on abortion has helped or hurt the campaign. “This is about parents’ rights.”
Tina Jacobson, a 38-year-old mother of four girls between the ages of 7 and 16, had an abortion at the age of 18 and said she is “on the fence” about abortion. She does, however, support Proposition 73.
“This initiative is nothing more than parents being notified,” she said. “My kids can’t have a tooth pulled, get a tattoo or take an aspirin at school without me signing off on it. This shouldn’t be any different.”
Jacobson, who was reared in a family with sexually-abusive members, said she didn’t have a good relationship with her mom at the time of her abortion — and that counselors at Planned Parenthood can’t replace family. “Planned Parenthood is not your parent,” she said. “They don’t know you — do they really know the child they’re counseling?”
Lyon, who also had an abortion at the age of 18, in London, said she had trouble finding a doctor who would give her a referral for the procedure, which was illegal at the time unless the pregnant woman was in danger. “I can tell you that I never regretted having an abortion, but it took me years to get over the shame and guilt of this clandestine experience,” said Lyon, who eventually did find a doctor. “I had no one to talk to.”
Counseling prior to abortions is a standard practice of Planned Parenthood, said Lyon, who added that 40 abortions have been performed in Ventura County in the last year and the abortion rate has declined throughout the state by 40 percent in the last decade. “I know the proponents of this proposition would like to believe there’s some sort of abortion mill going on out there and there is not,” Lyon said. “Still, our biggest concern is making sure kids don’t have unsafe, illegal abortions.”