California voters try again for parental notification amendment

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For the third time in two years, California voters may get a chance to amend the state constitution by requiring parental notification before a minor can get an abortion.

"It's a continuation of our effort to protect young girls from secret abortions," said Albin Rhomberg, spokesman for the Child and Teen Safety and Stop Predators Act.

As of Feb. 11, nearly 450,000 signatures had already been gathered for amendment, nicknamed "Sarah's Law." Supporters of the amendment have until mid-April to gather 695,000 votes in order to qualify for the November ballot.

Rhomberg said he expects the drive, which is securing about 50,000 signatures a week, will qualify for the November ballot. At least 34 states have similar laws, he said. The California law would require doctors to give parents at least 48 hours notice before performing an abortion on a minor.

Two previous attempts, Proposition 73, on the ballot in June 2006 and Proposition 85 in November 2006, both failed by votes of 53 to 47 percent and 54 to 46 percent respectively.

The latest version of the law includes amended language to counter concerns about potential parental abuse if a teen's pregnancy is disclosed. Like Proposition 85, the current amendment contains a judicial bypass and a parental waiver. The judicial bypass may be used to waive notification in cases where the minor is determined to be mature enough or if such a waiver is deemed in the teen's best interest. In addition to those two provisions, the proposed law provides for family notification such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle or adult sibling in cases of parental abuse. 

"The significant difference in the text—in order to counteract the claim of bad parents, even with the judicial bypass—is family notification," Rhomberg said.

To use the family notification clause, the requesting teen would have to submit a writing statement to her doctor indicating fear of parental abuse—physical, sexual or emotional. Rhomberg said supporters believe the new provision will provide another avenue for children in abusive situations, while also discouraging false accusations by teens and to help counter coaching by abortion providers.

"A secret abortion is not the solution for that abuse," Rhomberg said. "Good parents shouldn't be denied vital information about their child."


Unfair burden claimed
Opponents of parental notification said the judicial bypass is intimidating to young teens and places an unfair burden on them. The family notification clause would not ease the situation because of the formal report, opponents have said.

"Sarah's Law" is a pseudonym for a 15-year-old Texas girl who died after a botched abortion. Her parents maintain the girl never told them she was pregnant or that she had an abortion. By the time they discovered what was going on, Sarah was in the hospital suffering from an abortion-induced infection. Doctors discovered too late that the teen had suffered a tear in her cervix during the abortion, causing severe blood poisoning.

Similar cases have been reported across the country. One of California's most publicized cases was the 2003 death of Holly Patterson, who turned 18 just weeks before she took RU-486 to terminate her pregnancy. According to her father, the chemical abortion failed to complete the process, causing a massive infection called septic shock. Although Patterson would not have been covered under the proposed parental notification amendment because of her age, her father, Monty, became a vocal spokesman against home-administered abortion regimens.

"We have increasing numbers of these cases," Rhomberg said.


Statutory rape
In addition to potential health ramifications of abortion, supporters of the amendment are concerned about sexual abuse cases in which older men abuse and rape minors and coverup the assaults through abortion. In many states such contact with a minor is considered statutory rape.

The Sarah's law Web site features a dozen documented stories about girls as young as 10 being sexually abused and then forced to have abortions, many going unreported by the clinics. One of the cases involved a Kansas man who raped his 11-year-old stepdaughter repeatedly and forced her to have an abortion. Medical staff at the clinic never reported the abuse and returned the child to the home. The stepfather was eventually convicted of rape of the girl and her sister. In all, the girls reported four pregnancies, with two ending in abortion. The mother was convicted and jailed for child endangerment.

In California, a father came home unexpectedly early from work one day to find his 15-year-old daughter had tried to commit suicide by drug overdose. It was only then that he learned his daughter had been impregnated by her 33-year-old karate instructor. The coach told the teen he would commit suicide if she didn't have an abortion. Despite her own wishes and her deeply held belief that abortion was murder, she had the abortion. She said the grief and guilt prompted her attempted suicide.


Educating the public
Rhomberg said despite the earlier two losses, he's confident the measure can gain enough support to win, adding that polling suggests 73 percent of voters approved of the concept.

In the meantime, he said the ongoing debate is helping to educate the public on the lack of protections for teens when it comes to abortions. California state law requires parental permission for such things as getting aspirin at school, flue shots, filling dental cavities and getting a body piercing or tattoo.

"We know this is a very useful thing to do," he said. "Planned Parenthood loves the idea that people don't know this can happen.

"Whether we win or not the battle goes on because we have to fight the bureaucrats," he said. "Until you can raise consciousness, you are not making progress. It's an ongoing struggle. It's a huge, almost continuous cycle."