Parents should be notified

Posted: Nov 03, 2005 12:05 AM

The logic doesn't work. By definition, minors who get pregnant are less mature than those who do not -- in general, they belong to the subset of teens who have sex but don't use birth control at all or correctly, as opposed to teens who either use birth control consistently or abstain from having sex. So it doesn't make sense to have laws, like those in California, that give the least responsible teens more rights than are accorded a responsible teen who wants a tattoo.

 Still, I seriously considered voting against Proposition 73, a constitutional amendment that would require parental notification or a judge's waiver before a minor has an abortion.

 I would not support an initiative that made a pregnant teen carry an unwanted child. Proposition 73 does not require parental consent. An earlier law requiring parental consent was overturned by the California Supreme Court, thus this measure requires only that doctors notify a parent of a pending abortion, without requiring parental consent, unless a judge grants a waiver.

 As it is, countless teens are having sex without parental knowledge or consent. That's why we don't want laws that would deny minors access to birth control -- and Proposition 73 explicitly states that it would not apply to "any contraceptive drug or device."

 The pivotal question is: Should California law be based on families in which parents are abusive, or should it address the majority of parents who are responsible and only want what is best for their children? I have to come down on the side of the majority of good parents, especially when the judicial bypass exists for daughters of abusive parents.

 Why wouldn't a parent vote for this measure? Becky Morgan, a former GOP state senator and mother of an obstetrician-gynecologist, told me she will vote "no" because of teens who don't have the type of relationship that makes them feel they can tell their parents. Morgan is a founder of Planned Parenthood's Teen Success program -- which helps teenage mothers stay in school without getting pregnant again -- and has seen "mothering teenagers who have been kicked out of their homes." These are girls who cannot go to a parent.

  "I will always remember the teenager who said, 'My father gave my boyfriend a key to the house, and when I got pregnant, he threw me out,'" Morgan noted.

  I'm with Morgan on that: I don't want laws that would result in a pregnant teen getting thrown out of the house. That's why the judicial bypass is so important.

  But the other side of the argument deals with teens who could tell their parents, but simply don't want to -- just as they wouldn't want to tell their folks if they cracked up the family SUV. Savvy teens know that they can avoid telling their parents they're pregnant and get a tax-funded abortion by pleading poverty -- whether they are poor or not. Their parents will never be the wiser. That represents, in the truest sense, government intrusion into families' lives.

  It is the parents, after all, who will have to pick up the pieces if there are any problems, rare though that may be, following a minor's abortion.

 In my mind, this measure is not about abortion, but parental rights. I agree with those proponents and opponents who have predicted that if Proposition 73 passes, there will be little change in either the number of abortions or teen pregnancies in California.

 As I see it, Planned Parenthood can help those teens who need a judicial waiver negotiate the legal system. On the other hand, pregnant teens from good homes who don't want to take on that hassle of going to court might be more likely to tell their folks. One hopes that their parents will ensure that they use birth control thereafter, and thus prevent repeat teen pregnancies.

 It is true: Some teens might be afraid to go to court. Morgan tells me Planned Parenthood won't have enough volunteers to usher teens throughout California to local courts. I say: then Planned Parenthood will have to choose which cases seem worthy.

 Allowing minors to have surgery without their parents' knowledge should be the exception, not the rule. As the late and liberal Justice Stanley Mosk wrote in a 1996 decision that upheld a parental consent law -- later overturned -- legal restrictions on minors "are premised on a fundamental social tenet that children require protection against their own immaturity and vulnerability in making decisions that may have serious consequences for their health and well-being."

  Instead, California law presumes that parents are less mature or sensitive than their children, if their daughters are pregnant. If the law won't trust parents of pregnant teens, then it can withhold decision-making in other areas, like education.

 If someone wants to devise a better way to write a law that protects parents' rights -- say, one that separates the kids who just don't want to tell their parents from those who dare not -- I am all ears.