EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a series of stories focusing on the election that Baptist Press will run between now and Nov. 4. Stories will run on Wednesdays and Fridays.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–Unless she has a parent’s permission, a teenage girl in California can’t go on a school field trip, can’t get a body piercing, can’t go to the tanning salon and can’t even get an aspirin from the school nurse.
She can, though, get an abortion — without her parents even knowing.
California pro-lifers hope to change that Nov. 4, when voters will consider a constitutional amendment known as Proposition 4 that would require an abortion doctor to notify a parent — or another adult family member — 48 hours before performing an abortion on a teen girl. The proposal also has a judicial bypass allowing a judge to grant permission.
Proposition 4 is considerably weaker than some laws in other states — it requires notification, and not permission — but it nevertheless would be a significant step forward for the pro-life movement in a state where parental notification proposals suffered close defeats in 2005 and 2006. It’s been dubbed “Sarah’s Law” in memory of a 15-year-old Texas girl who died in the hospital four days after her cervix was torn during an abortion her parents knew nothing about. Hospital officials said had she been admitted immediately, instead of four days after the procedure, she would have survived.
“In California you can take minor girls in for a major surgical procedure called an abortion without even notifying the parents,” Grace Dulaney, a spokeswoman for the Yes on 4 campaign and a parent, told Baptist Press. “It sets up the girl to not have proper medical attention and it sets up the parents to be deprived of that right to be involved in a major decision in their daughter’s life and left to pick up the pieces afterwards. An abortion requires an anesthesia in some cases. It has very strong, long-term strong psychological, physical and emotional ramifications.”
Passage of Proposition 4 would be a significant defeat for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider which invested millions into defeating similar initiatives in ’05 and ’06 and is doing the same this year. It almost certainly will outspend supporters — and by a wide margin. Planned Parenthood’s California affiliates set up a political committee known as the Campaign for Teen Safety that already has raised more than $3 million alone from Planned Parenthood affiliates, according to information on the California secretary of state’s website. One affiliate, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte (headquartered in San Jose), donated $1 million to the committee, while two others — Planned Parenthood Shasta Diablo and Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties — donated $500,000 each.
Nationwide, 35 states have laws either requiring parental notification or consent, according to Stateline.org. The laws are popular with the public: A 2005 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 69 percent of U.S. adults support laws “requiring women under 18 to get parental consent for any abortion.” That same year a CBS News poll showed that 80 percent of adults would back a law “requiring that at least one parent be told before a girl under 18 years of age could have an abortion.”
But despite the nationwide popularity of the laws, pro-lifers in California have struggled to pass one in their home state. In 2005 a parental notification law lost 53-47 percent, and in 2006, 54-46 percent.
Supporters of the newest proposal, though, think this year can be different.
For starters, Proposition 4 is different from the previous two attempts in that it allows any adult family member — and not just a parent — to be notified about a minor’s abortion. That helps counter one of Planned Parenthood’s chief arguments: that a teen girl from an abusive home could be physically beaten if her parents learn about her pregnancy. Indeed, the Planned Parenthood-sponsored anti-Prop 4 website still states, “Prop 4 puts our most vulnerable teenagers in harms way.”
Additionally, Proposition 4 supporters believe the amendment can pass this year because they are focusing not just on the parental notification aspect of the proposal but also on the way Prop 4 would help protect underage teen girls who have been impregnated by adult males in a statutory rape. In fact, the yard signs and the bumper stickers for the Yes on 4 campaign say in large orange type, “Stop Sexual Predators.” Prop 4, supporters say, will force abortion clinics to notify parents about crimes that often go unreported. The Yes on 4 website includes several stories of statutory rapes and other sexual crimes that were not reported even though an abortion was involved.
Data seem to back up the concerns of Prop 4 backers: One study showed that of more than 46,000 births to school-age teens in California, more than two-thirds involved men with an average age of 22.6, the Yes on 4 campaign says.
“The misperception is, ‘Oh, these girls are getting pregnant by the kid that sits next to them in class.’ In reality, that’s not true,” Dulaney said. “This brings to the forefront that this is a law enforcement issue. This gets people very irate — that crime is being hidden. If parents don’t know, then law enforcement isn’t going to be made aware, because the abortion providers aren’t reporting it. They’re very secretive about their records. And so these crimes just continue. Some of them are repeat offenders that come in a second or third time with these young girls for an abortion. One story had a 23-year-old bringing in a 13-year-old for an abortion, and on his way out of the clinic he asked [clinic officials] for a shot of Depo-Provera, which is birth control. And no one reported it.”
An Aug. 27 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Proposition 4 ahead, 47-44 percent, among likely voters.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For information about Proposition 4 or to donate to the campaign, visit www.YesOn4.net (out of state donations are legal).