In 1953, the state of California passed a law that allowed ‘un-emancipated’ minors to receive an abortion. Since then social conservatives and state agents have made several attempts to amend this law on the basis that parental involvement is critical in such an important decision. In 1987, the State Legislature added a clause requiring that minors obtain parental or legal consent prior to an abortion procedure (San Francisco Chronicle, 17). The amendment was challenged in court and thus never enforced. In 2005, supporters of parental notification tried to use the ballot to pass Proposition 73. This proposition would have established a 48 hour mandatory pre-abortion waiting period during which, parents would be served with written notification of the intent (Proposition 4). It failed. In 2008, supporters of parental notification qualified Proposition 4. The difference between Proposition 4 and previous amendments was that it allowed notification of parental substitutes in cases, where the minor feared retribution or abuse. The parent substitute would be a person, who was at least twenty one years of age, who is a grandparent, stepparent, foster parent, aunt, uncle, sibling, half sibling or cousin to the minor. The parent or parent substitute could also give a written waiver of the notice based on clear and convincing evidence of the minor’s best interests or maturity (Department of Health Services). In the November 4, 2008 ballot in California, Proposition 4 was defeated.
In their article Yes: it provides protection for children. Francis and Francis argue that pre-abortion parental notification is only common sense. Allowing minors, who are already vulnerable members of the community, to handle pregnancy alone is both socially and medically negligent. They assert that parents or pseudo-parental figures are essential to the process, if the state expects accurate medical records that will be provided and that the minor will receive comprehensive and appropriate post-abortion care. In the rare instances, where minors face threat of abuse or violence at home, the proposition allows for the notification of alternative family members or the acquisition of a judicial waiver. Where pregnancy was a direct result of sexual abuse or coercion, the proposition makes it much easier to report or discover will sexual predators and prosecute repeat offenders. Proposition 4 is essential in assuring teenage health and safety (Francis and Francis).
Having an abortion is an adult decision that requires adult guidance. States that have institutionalized family involvement have lower rates of teen pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted infections (Francis and Francis). In California, minors are required to obtain parental consent before undergoing even small beauty or surgical procedures. Abortion should be no different, especially, considering that it has the potential to influence the minor’s life-path. The family, as the core unit of society, provides the emotional and counseling foundation that these teenagers require, when making such life altering decisions (Department of Health Services). When a parent or a parent substitute is notified, the minor, is also receiving an additional resource through their decision making and recovery process. Family will provide guidance in option selection, competent health care and an environment that is conducive for the minor to work through the issues that preceded the unplanned pregnancy.
Bellasalma counters Francis and Francis argument by noting that Proposition 4 has more of a potential for harm rather than protecting them. In her article, she emphasizes that though proponents assert that its intention is to secure the health of minors, the reality is that the proposition will limit minors’ access to healthcare by insisting on the 48 hour parental notification period. The fact that medical personnel that aid these desperate minors work under the threat of prosecution, is just another strike against the proposition. Though Proposition 4 relies heavily on parental notification, the kind of notification required is superficial at best. A form letter is sent to a parent or relative. The state does not require or request the receiver to provide post-abortion assistance to the minor. Contrary to Francis and Francis, she insists that threats and cases of parental abuse and violence are not that rare, if a minor is found to be pregnant, some forms of which are not even criminalized. If States that have institutionalized parental notification are anything to go by, such stringent conditions only encourage the minors to delay medical care and counseling or seek life-threatening alternatives like self-induced or illegal abortions.
Notification should be a choice not a requirement. Bellasalma notes that already a majority of teenagers with unplanned pregnancies alert their parents prior to making the decision to abort. She asserts that Proposition 4 is another ploy by pro-life institutions and individuals to limit access to abortion for women. She reiterates that unlike those other states, California does not need Proposition 4. Even without it, the state has managed to reduce pregnancy rates by over 40%. Moreover states, that have enforced parental notification, have reported higher rates of self induced and illegal abortions (Bellasalma). Placing barriers to minors already traumatized by their situation is not solving the problem of unplanned pregnancies. Proponents should focus on institutionalizing preventative measures, such as contraception and exhaustive sex education.
Both the proponents and opponents to Proposition 4 have valid arguments. Indeed, abortion is a life-altering decision that requires considerable thought and a deliberate investigation and consideration of other options. However, the proposition is tantamount to enforced privacy violation. Teenagers are at an age, where they are most conscious and concerned about the issue of their privacy. The proposition increases the chances of deviancy, especially in cases, where the minor fears retaliation due to the unplanned pregnancy. In cases, where a minor from an abusive home is willing to follow the law, there is the distinct possibility of retaliation from irate family members (San Francisco Chronicle, 17). She may be thrown out or beaten leading to her reporting the incident to either Law Enforcement or Child Protective Services. An investigation would ensue, the state may prosecute. In the meantime the minor is still left with the burden of an unplanned pregnancy and dealing with the ramifications of the emotional and legal strife of a broken home. To the minor, the alternative of an unsafe abortion attempt may very well seem like the better, less cumbersome option. For the sake of these, not so few minors, Proposition 4 would have been a life sentence.