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Abortion Notification Measure Back on Ballot


Prop 85 on the November ballot would require doctors to notify parents at least 48 hours before performing an abortion on a minor. Some in the medical and legal community have serious reservations about the measure. But supporters maintain it makes sense for parents to be involved in their children’s medical decisions. KPBS Reporter Kenny Goldberg has the story.

Students in California’s public schools can’t even be given an aspirin without a parent’s consent.

Rhomberg: So, why shouldn’t parents be notified if their daughter is having an abortion?

That’s the feeling of Yes on 85 spokesman Albin Rhomberg.

Rhomberg:  Because the consequences are so much more serious and so much more related to the child’s overall welfare. This is a very serious health situation and it relates to the child’s emotional health, social circumstances, and secret abortions are not the solution.

Rhomberg says parents are responsible for their children’s welfare. And he believes parents should be involved if their teenage daughter is having an abortion.   

Rhomberg: The minor needs the protection of an adult or a guardian, in such a serious matter as this, as an invasive surgical procedure, when among other things, if there’s something goes wrong, how would the minor be cared for?

It’s true parental permission is required for most medical care that involves minors. But California law has long made an exception when it comes to reproductive services. Minors in the state can get contraceptives, get treated for sexually transmitted diseases, or even terminate a pregnancy without parental involvement. Prop 85 would amend the constitution to change the confidentiality of certain medical information.

Preskill: This would be the first time that a constitutional amendment actually limited the rights of citizens of the state of California. And I think that’s a very troubling problem.

David Preskill is a retired gynecologist. He’s also on the board of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood, a group that’s opposed to Prop 85.  Preskill says besides the issue of confidentiality, he has another concern. He says Prop 85 requires at least a 48-hour waiting period before a minor can get an abortion. That’s if a parent is notified of the procedure in person. Notification by mail, especially over a holiday weekend, can add further delays.

Preskill: Some studies have shown that teenagers have a tendency to seek abortion care as much as three weeks later in their pregnancy than older women. Now if there’s an additional impact on waiting that’s caused by the initiative that may mean that many teenagers are going to be seeking care at a time when the risk of an abortion procedure may be increased.

Thirty-five states have parental involvement laws on the books. A recent study sheds some light on the effects of such measures.

Economist Ted Joyce, from Baruch College at City University of New York, is the study’s lead author. His research looks at changes in abortions and births caused by the parental notification law in Texas. It took effect in 2000.

Joyce: Abortion rates definitely fell, in the area of about 15 percent. But that wasn’t the most important part of the study. The most important part was we came to the conclusion that birth rates actually rose among the kids most affected by the law.

In fact, Joyce found a slight increase in birth rates and in second trimester abortions among teens who were closer to 18 when they became pregnant.

Joyce: So what we found was a very interesting kind of behavioral response to this law, was that those who could try to risk waiting seemed to be doing it, to get across that threshold, and get a 2nd trimester termination.

Like the law in Texas, Prop 85 would allow a pregnant teen to bypass the measure. She’d have to convince a judge that it’s not in her best interest to tell her parents. 

Jo Pastore is the assistant supervisor in the juvenile division of San Diego County public defender’s office.

She says if a child requested a waiver because of abuse or incest, the court would have to file a report with child protective services.

Pastore: Once it’s reported to child protective services, they’ll immediately begin an investigation. The family will be told, maybe not that she’s pregnant, but the family will certainly be aware that there’s a CPS investigation, that either this child’s been abused or molested in some way. And so, that, you know, would have a chilling effect.

Prop 85 opponents point out California’s teen pregnancy rate has dropped by 46 percent over the past decade. But Prop 85 spokesman Albin Rhomberg doesn’t believe it.

Rhomberg: Those are blue-sky figures. But even if they’re true, I suppose you could compare it to another social problem like murder. If you had the highest rates and had the highest number of murders before and you’ve reduced them some and they’re still among the highest, you’d say, we haven’t solved the problem. We have a very serious problem here, and we know one of the solutions, one of the most important solutions, is parental involvement.

Californians rejected that solution last November, when they turned down Prop 73. But an August Field Poll reveals voters are evenly divided on Prop 85, with 44 percent for and 45 percent against the measure. Eleven percent of voters are undecided. Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.

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