Let’s Do the Time Warp Again: California Ballot Proposition 4

Since 1953, California State law has allowed minors to receive, without parental consent or notification, the same types of medical care for a pregnancy that are available to an adult. Based on this law combined with Roe v. Wade (1973), minors are able to obtain abortions without parental consent or notification.

For over two decades, the religious right has been working hard to try to introduce changes that would force minors to get the consent of a parent or a court before getting access to these services. This was found unconstitutional, so they have been bringing back proposed legislation and ballot initiatives to serve up different forms of this idea. The latest, Proposition 4, would amend the State Constitution to require, with certain exceptions, a physician (or his or her representative) to notify the parent or legal guardian of a pregnant “unemancipated” minor at least 48 hours before performing an abortion involving that minor.

FYI, a minor is someone under 18; she is emancipated if she (1) is on active duty in the armed services of the United States, or (2) has been declared free from her parents’ or guardians’ custody and control under state law, or (3) is married. Yeah, shotgun wedding on the horizon.

So you’re 15, you get preggies. Most of the time, your first thought is going to be “my parents will kill me!” Now you not only have to work yourself up to finding a doctor in time — one that is not adamantly against abortion or even contraception — you have to have the doctor contact at least one of your parents by either personal written contact (note given in hand) or certified mail. Tick, tick, tick goes the clock as you wrestle and agonize over the decision in the first place. Fucking brilliant.

So how does the Right support the argument for pushing young women toward the out-of-state coat-hanger clinics of the good ol’ days? For their protection, of course! From what? From sexual predators! Because the picture they paint is full of dirty old men who get girls pregnant then force them to have abortions without their parents’ knowledge. And then, in beautiful morality tales, the girls DIE!

Interestingly, none of the case examples they cite actually conform to that scenario, and even so they are rare and old. Their flagship case is “Sarah” (they have dubbed their proposition “Sarah’s Law”, since that approach worked so well for other laws). In the version the proponents tell:

Sarah was only 15 when she had a secret abortion. Within days a high fever set in. No one knew why, or how seriously ill she was. By the time she was hospitalized and doctors determined she had a deadly infection from a torn cervix, it was too late. Sarah died. Had someone in her family known about the abortion, Sarah’s life could have been saved.

But the story is much more interesting and cautionary that that. “Sarah” was the pseudonym used to cover the identity of the minor; she was a Texas girl named Jammie Garcia Yanez-Villegas, married and already a mother. She died in 1994, at the age of 15, as a result of complications from an abortion that her family didn’t know about. “Sarah’s Law” would have changed absolutely nothing for her: married, she would not have needed to wait for a doctor to contact her parents. Incidentally, the abortion was botched which suggests that she was also poor and going for mediocre services. Gotta love privatized health care systems.

The fact is that teen pregnancies and teen abortions have been decreasing between 1990 and 2000 for all races and nationwide in the U.S.; though they typically remain highest in areas where there is least access to information, contraception, and medical services.
The teen birth rate has declined by 30% from 1991 to 2002, reversing the 23% rise that had taken place from 1986 to 1991. And yet, in 2002 the abortion rate among teenager mothers was 50% lower than its high point in 1988, suggesting that the problem is not at all what the Right depicts.

However, studies indicate that a majority of teen pregnancies are fathered by older men, not other teenagers, and in 40% to 70% of cases, following sexual abuse, often by a family member. Should the girl then have to go back to her parents for permission to have an abortion — after facing an angry dad and a mother often in denial of this horror?

Just vote “NO” on effing Prop. 4 on the California ballot, will you?