Proposition 4, whose official name is the “Child and Teen Safety and Stop Predators Act: Sarah’s Law,” states in its declaration of finding and purpose, that “the people of California have a compelling interest in protecting minors from the known risks of secret abortions, including the danger of not obtaining prompt care for health- and life-threatening complications when a minor’s parent or responsible family member is unaware that she has undergone a secret abortion.” Let’s examine this carefully.
The known risks of so-called ‘secret’ abortions are, indeed, well known. Why? Because in the State of California, young women have had the freedom to receive pregnancy termination without parental notification since 1953. While every medical procedure has risk, there has certainly not been an epidemic of young females being rushed to emergency rooms due to post-abortion complications. I’m not suggesting that this has never happened, but it happens so infrequently that it hardly justifies a change in the State’s constitution.
Claire Brindis, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and director of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, was instrumental in conducting and compiling extensive research for a report [Read The Report] that examined the impact of parental notification in states where similar laws were implemented. One of the most compelling arguments against this new law is that, since 1992, the decline of adolescent pregnancy in California has matched, and even outpaced, national rates. The report credits this to “laws and policies promoting comprehensive, medically accurate sex education, and confidential access to family planning services.” Clearly, the current system works.
On the other hand, The Bixby Center report sites one study where “adolescents reported that they will discontinue using most reproductive health services if confidentiality is not guaranteed; however, they would not refrain from having sex.” Furthermore, the report indicates that in multiple studies of states where parental notification laws were enacted, “pregnancy rates among 17 year olds did not change.”
The Bixby report also states that, “in a study of states without parental involvement laws, a majority (61%) of young women under age 18 reported that at least one parent was aware of their decision to seek abortion care. Parental involvement was even higher among younger adolescents; over 90% of 14 year olds and 74% of 15 year olds reported having at least one parent involved in their decision.”
The proposed law states that “the people also have a compelling interest in preventing sexual predators from using secret abortions to conceal sexual exploitation of minors.” This, on the face of it, seems perfectly reasonable. There is, however, one strong argument against it: There is simply no evidence to suggest that this is a serious or wide-spread problem in California, and certainly not significant enough to justify a change to the State’s constitution. Data indicates that 75% of young women choose sexual partners who are within 3 years of their own age.
The law also includes an important component for reporting familial abuse, statutory rape, and other criminal actions. This, too, is not necessary because current State law already requires the reporting of criminal activity to appropriate agencies by health care providers.
We shouldn’t forget that there are serious health risks to young women if this law is passed. Parental notification and, more significantly, judicial review place needless delays between the patient and her health care provider. Every delay increases the complexity of pregnancy termination, and adds to the risk for the patient.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This is a ploy by anti-choice activists. The real purpose for this proposed law is not to protect children or inform parents. It is to reduce the availability of pregnancy termination providers in California. It does this by implementing strong civil punishments for health care providers who intentionally or inadvertently fail to comply fully with the proposed law.
Parents and legal guardians can sue health care providers within 4 years of the pregnancy termination OR (and this is a very big ‘or’) within “four years of the date a parent wrongfully denied notification discovers or reasonably should have discovered the failure to comply with this section.” Does that mean that if, 10 years later, I find my daughter’s diary and discover that she had an abortion without my being notified, I can still sue? I’m quite sure this will cause all kinds of legal snafus.
There’s also a $10,000 incentive to sue, with no limits on damages, and the promise of court costs if the plaintiff wins. Pretty sweet! Can you say “Ka-ching”? This is a huge disincentive for health care providers, and the authors of the constitutional amendment know it. That’s really what they want.
In talking with Professor Brindis, she said, “If, as young women in California say, 80% of parents know about their children’s sexual behavior, how do we improve that percentage from 80% to 90%? How do we help parents become ‘ask-able’ parents? That’s where we should be devoting our energies.” I agree.
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