It's too bad we have to keep repeating ourselves, but here we go again: On its face, parental notification of a minor's pregnancy and/or intention to terminate it sounds like a good idea, but it's not. It puts teenage girls in dysfunctional family situations at risk for emotional or physical abuse.
Why do we need to say this again, for at least the third time in as many years? Two reasons: San Diego Unified School District is about to update its parental-notification policy, and the man behind the San Diego Reader appears to be back for third attempt at making parental notification the law of the land in California.
In 2005 and 2006, Jim Holman, editor and publisher of the Reader and a devout Catholic, spent millions of his own dollars on Props. 73 and 85, respectively. They would have required doctors to notify the parents of any minor requesting an abortion at least two days before performing the procedure. Prop. 73 failed by a count of 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent. The margin of defeat for Prop. 85 a year later was even wider, 54 percent to 46 percent.
Yet Holman is undaunted. Last month, the California Secretary of State gave the go-ahead to the proponent of a new parental-notification initiative to begin collecting signatures to get the measure placed on a 2008 ballot. The name of the proponent given to the state is John Smith. No address or phone number were provided, only an e-mail address. The sample petition for the initiative shows, as an example of the information signature gatherers must get, the name “John Smith” residing at “123 Main Street” in Los Angeles. A Secretary of State spokesperson told CityBeat that she believes the coincidence is just that—a coincidence. CityBeat's e-mail to John Smith was not returned.
It appears, however, that Mr. Smith has some connection to Holman—signature gatherers are asked to return petitions to “Friends of Sarah” at 1703 India St. in San Diego, which is the address for the Reader's offices. A Friends of Sarah website, which also gives the Reader's address, says nothing about the initiative's proponents. We left a message at the toll-free number provided but hadn't received a return call by press time. “Sarah,” the website says, was a 15-year-old who died from abortion-procedure complications and whose parents didn't know she was terminating a pregnancy. The website calls the 2008 measure “Sarah's Law.”
Holman, or John Smith, must collect the signatures of 694,354 registered California voters—8 percent of the votes cast in the 2006 gubernatorial election—before April 18 in order to qualify for the November ballot.
Meanwhile, in January, the San Diego Unified School District's Board of Education will consider amending its parental-notification policy. This past April, voiceofsandiego.org revealed that the district's policy runs afoul of the state Constitution's privacy protections, as well as a 2003 state Attorney General opinion. It requires school employees who learn that a student is pregnant or planning to get an abortion to inform the student's parents, through the principal, and it prohibits students from leaving campus to get medical care without parental consent.Board members are heading in the right direction—partly. A proposed policy change would allow students to leave campus for confidential medical care, and that's good. And for the most part, it instructs counselors and nurses to keep pregnancies and plans for abortion between them and the students, and that, too, is good. But it also opens the door to parental notification if employees believe keeping parents in the dark would result in harm to the student.The new policy must be straightforward and simple—no parental notification under any circumstances without the consent of the student. State law gives full rights to privacy and confidential medical care to pregnant minors. There's no need for a loophole left open to the interpretation of school employees.
Look, we're not anti-parent. Whether we're talking about state law or school policy, it's likely that the vast majority of teens have loving, supportive immediate families, or at least aunts, uncles, grandparents or other trusted adults in their lives to whom they can turn for guidance. Most teenage girls aren't the issue. At issue and in need of protection are those who have reason to fear their parents or legal guardians. They are the kids in desperate need of the privacy to seek medical care without fear of reprisal.
Unfortunately, the religious crusaders who are opposed to abortion and seek to chip away at a woman's right to seek medical care that is appropriate to her don't understand that. Fortunately, the state's judicial system—so far—does.