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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Politics: CA Prop 4 — The Parental Notification Act

Guest blogger and Fount of Wisdom (as well as Feline Pope-in-Exile) Milagrito opines on the fate of this doubtful legislation being supported by Mormons and homophobes who are trying to change California's political landscape.

Milagrito's Campaign slogan

No on Parental Notification

Fellow kitties, I must address a topic that may prove controversial and maybe even lose me a few votes. I would really like to hear your reactions, whether or not you agree with me. I am urging any of you whose humans are California voters to make them vote NO on Proposition 4 in the November election, and any non-California voters to reject similar measures in their states.

Prop 4 is what is called a “notification law” and it’s about abortion. Some states have passed similar laws, but California voters have twice defeated similar measures. The basic proposed law states that any teenager seeking an abortion is subject to a parental notification requirement, meaning that if a pregnant teenager wants an abortion, they have to be prepared to have a letter posted to their parents telling on them.

These laws, to be constitutional, generally have what is called a “judicial bypass” provision. A teenager can go to a court — an excruciatingly embarrassing and intrusive requirement — and explain to a judge why she doesn’t want to have her parents involved, and a judge can issue consent to the abortion. As a law cat, I’m appalled by the high level of proof a teen is expected to present to the courts under Prop 4, either of their ability to make their own decision or of a negative family situation. The burden of proof is only slightly less than that required to convict someone of murder, and higher than the burden of proof required to award someone millions of dollars in a damage suit.

The new California ballot proposal has a further, more toxic alternative. The teenager can inform the doctor that her parents would sexually, physically or emotionally abuse her if her pregnancy and desire for an abortion were known. The doctor can then notify an alternate adult relative, telling this relative of the accusations against the parents, and also forwarding the accusation to a government agency for investigation.

These laws supposedly force the teen to turn to her parents for their wisdom and support. These laws also recognize that parents aren’t always wise and supportive. But instead of offering the teen alternative adult support in the form of counseling and compassionate medical care, they instead require her to become her parents’ accuser in exchange for the desired abortion. Her choice is to face the wrath of the parents (who might well react emotionally and hurtfully even if they are not cruel people) or to smear their reputation by report to the government.

Some proponents say this law will prevent sexual predators from covering up their abuse by forcing teens to have abortions. However, even a teenager who has been abused or exploited is entitled to her privacy and dignity, and to lodge an accusation when she is emotionally ready to do so. To force her to choose between being dragged through the courts or social services bureaucracy or face possibly abusive reactions by parents, is to pile stress, confusion and pain on a vulnerable teen. It is atrociously cruel.

I fear that teens would have a hell of a time navigating this legal mess. Nothing in this coercive system helps teens make good decisions. I can even imagine that a desperate teen, afraid to face her parents and embarrassed to tell her story to judge, might report abuse that never happened, just to get the abortion she wants. A teen, especially a middle-class kid whose family has never tangled with the law or the social service system, might have no idea what legal nightmare might be unleashed on her family if she says that, yes, her parents would emotionally abuse her if she told them she was pregnant. The law also blithely supposes that there is another adult who can be notified instead of the now-vilified parents. What if the entire family belongs to the same strict religion? What will happen to the family when Mom finds out that her sister knew all along, and didn’t tell her because of her supposed failures as a parent? How will the aunt feel being asked to keep this secret? What happens to the teen’s privacy when the social worker arrives at the door to find out what’s wrong with the family?

Kids have different rates of maturity, and families have different degrees of dysfunction. My Mama knows lots of girls from normal families who had abortions as teenagers and never told their parents, not wanting to upset them and get grounded for life. They went on to college and professions, and married and had families and suffered no fallout whatever, because they didn’t believe that abortion was wrong, but having a baby you couldn’t care for was very wrong. If I was a parent of a teenage kitten, I would much rather they came to me, but if they didn’t, I would want them to have somewhere to turn for competent medical and psychological help.

But there are other kinds of families, too, where people love each other but where parents are from other countries and cultures, or are very conservative, and the kids sometimes have values that clash with their parents’. Where parents think that punishment is an appropriate response. Where a pregnancy can have a devastating effect on the relationship of a daughter with her parents and perhaps affect a girl’s future. I can’t help but feel that there are situations where it’s best the parents don’t know. Even an immature teenager may be able to better evaluate her own situation than a court or agency.

Finally, the proposed law attacks doctors. Doctors would be expected to file paperwork on each abortion performed. They would be susceptible to suit by parents who claimed they were not properly notified. The exposure to lawsuits is precisely the reason many doctors are leaving high-risk medicine, such as high-risk obstetrics. This proposition seems aimed at scaring doctors away from abortions. Its most outrageous provision is that the parents can sue a doctor who performs an abortion on their child any time up to four years after the child reaches the age of majority. That means if a doctor performed an abortion on a patient who was sixteen, the parents can sue him up until she turns 22 — and the daughter can’t stop them. Only major felonies have statutes of limitations this long, and the result will be that even more doctors will refuse to perform abortions.

I cannot find an ounce of compassion or sense in this proposal. It needs to lose.

ThePoliticalCat thanks Milagrito for his clear, rational post on this issue. This would also be a good place to point out that in some cultures, a girl who has lost her virginity (one who, for example, needs an abortion) has sullied her family's honor, which can only be recovered by killing said girl. For those who think this doesn't happen in Western countries in this day and age, may we kindly point them to the story of Banaz Mahmod, murdered in the UK. Alternatively, consider Samana Siddiqui's interesting juxtaposition of information about honor killings of women in the Islamic countries to murders of women in the US and Canada. Or read Faux News' bigoted but nevertheless essentially factually correct report on honor killings in the US.

La Casa de Los Gatos would like to take this opportunity to point out that honor killings are not a religious, but a cultural practice. Thus, so called honor killings are very rare in Islamic countries in most of East and South-east Asia, but common in Pakistan, for example, and, sadly more so these days, in Iraq.

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At 11:57 PM, Blogger Ms. Manitoba said...

Milagrito, thanks so much for your post. I am the mum of two daugthers and have been thinking a lot about this proposition. Plus, thought about myself when I was a teen. And read a great letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle in Friday's paper. It was written by a pediatrician in Palo Alto. He urged all of us to vote NO on Prop 4. (The Chronicle had editorialized and came to the same conclusion.) The pediatrician's reasons:
-- doctors strongly encourage their patients to notify their parents anyway -- and the majority of the teens end up doing that.
-- he fears that some teens would be physically or psychologically abused if this prop passed.

At 12:03 AM, Blogger Friend of TPC said...

I'm voting NO on 4, count on it!

At 4:42 PM, Blogger Paula Silinger said...

My name is Paula and I’m an intern for Ms. magazine. I just came across your wonderful blog post about California Proposition 4 and wanted to let you know about a new video that has just been released from the Feminist Majority Foundation, the publisher of Ms.

This November, South Dakotans will vote on a draconian abortion ban – Initiated Measure 11. I’m sure you are very aware how dangerous Measure 11 is to women’s reproductive health and rights, as it aims to make it nearly impossible for a woman to obtain an abortion in South Dakota. With help from some celebrities like Camryn Manheim, Amy Brenneman and Sara Ramirez, this video urges people to vote NO on 11 this November on the South Dakota ballot. Check it out/spread it around:

And of course, please check out our Vote No on 4 video:

Please consider posting these videos onto your website so it is made available to your visitors. We must do all that we can to preserve women’s reproductive rights and let women know what’s at risk this election!

Thanks for your consideration,

Paula Silinger
Ms. magazine


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