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Teens Chime In on Parental Notification Measure


For the third time in the last four years, California voters are being asked to weigh-in on teen abortions. Prop 4 on the November ballot would require doctors to notify parents at least 48 hours befo

Teens Chime In on Parental Notification Measure

(Photo, right: 18-year-old Marcella Herder thinks Prop 4 is a bad idea. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS )

 For the third time in the last four years, California voters are being asked to weigh-in on teen abortions. Prop 4 on the November ballot would require doctors to notify parents at least 48 hours before performing an abortion on a minor.

KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg checks in with some teenage girls to see what they think about it.

About 700 teenagers a month come to the Vista Community Clinic .

Zulma Quintanar and patient: So what brings you today to the clinic?...Um, I actually wanted to hook up a day after pill and pick up some birth control….Okay, so this is your first time coming to the clinic, am I correct?.....

Health educator Zulma Quintanar tells the patient the clinic provides a host of services, including pregnancy tests and birth control. 

Quintanar: And it's free and confidential, so meaning if like your mom, your dad, a family member, anybody wants to come in and know if you were here, we're under a law that says we can't give any information about you, okay?....

When it comes to sexual health and abortion in California, teenagers have the same right to privacy as adults. But the rules will change for teens seeking an abortion if voters approve Prop 4.

The measure would amend the state constitution. It would require doctors to notify parents at least 48 hours before performing an abortion on a minor.

That doesn't sit well with many teenagers.

17-year-old Sandra has been sexually active for a while.

Sandra : Me personally, I don't believe in abortions. But I believe that if I were to get one, I don't think I would tell my parents, because I feel like they would look at me as someone who's already messed up, like early in my life, and I'd feel like I was a disappointment. So that's why I wouldn't tell them.

Sandra says she doesn't feel comfortable talking with her parents about sex, let alone abortions. She says she's already had some bad experiences.

Sandra: When my parents actually found out that I was not a virgin, they were very disappointed. They thought like, everything, like my whole career and life ended. Even though nothing turned out bad from it. I mean me and my boyfriend were safe about it and everything, but my parents were not very supportive or happy about it.

Prop 4 supporters argue the measure will help foster family communication.

Supporters say for teens who live in abusive households, the initiative allows doctors to notify another adult relative like a grandparent or an uncle.

And designers of Prop 4 say there's even a provision for teens who feel mature enough to handle things on their own. They can ask a judge for a waiver.  

18-year-old Marcella Herder says that's totally unrealistic.

Marcella Herder: Pregnancy already weighs on you enough. You have friends that are pregnant, you see how much like that weighs on them and how much that weighs on their schooling and everything. So to even add court issues to that, that would just be insane, I mean, it would be so much harder to deal with.

But not all young women are against Prop 4. Some believe parental notification is a good thing.

Denisse Reyes: Because sometimes, there's risk for a teen getting an abortion. And it's their child's health, and they should be notified about it.

  081028-clinic-kg.jpg Vista Community Clinic sees 700 teens a month for reproductive health issues. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS .

Denisse Reyes is one of the health educators at the Vista Community Clinic. She thinks a lot of sexually active teens are irresponsible.

Reyes: I know 'cause I see a lot of patients that come in, and you ask them if they want to start a birth control method and then they say no. And then, you ask them why and they just say, oh, because I don't think I really need it. And then the come in and they're pregnant and they want to choose to have an abortion, and they just find it so much easier, since they don't have to notify anyone.

Backers of Prop 4 say parental notification laws in other states have lead to a drop in teen abortions.

But the sexual health think tank known as the Guttmacher Institute refutes that claim.

Guttmacher researchers say minors' abortion rates have been declining for years, in states with and without such laws. That's because the teen pregnancy rate has been falling dramatically in the U.S.

Ultimately, Prop 4 supporters say pregnant teens are too young to make a decision about whether to have an abortion.

17-year-old Sandra admits supporters have a point.

Sandra: But at the same time, we have to make mistakes in life, and, I guess if we have to make one at such a young age, I mean, we have to learn from it, too.

California voters rejected parental notification measures in 2005 and 2006. But thanks in part to big donations from San Diego Reader publisher Jim Holman, it's on the ballot again. Holman did not respond to requests for an interview.

A recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows Prop 4 has a slim lead among likely voters. But ten percent are still undecided.

Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.