A parent's right to know

Posted: Oct 01, 2006 12:01 AM

Opponents of California's Proposition 85, which would mandate that a parent be notified before a minor has an abortion, basically argue that teens will tell good parents -- open-minded parents like them -- if they are pregnant. But if pregnant teens don't talk to their parents, it probably is for good reason. As in: Their parents are close-minded, abusive or neglectful. They have a nifty-sounding sentence that looks good until you think about it. As they told The San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board last week, no law can make kids talk to their parents.

Wrong. When minors need parental consent to do something they want to do, they talk to their parents. In this case, Proposition 85 does not require that parents consent to their daughters' abortions. It requires that parents be notified -- unless there is a medical emergency, a judge waives parental notification based on the child's maturity or best interests, or parents stipulate in writing that they don't want to know. (A form would allow parents to waive the notification requirement for 30 days, until a specific date or until their daughter's 18th birthday.)

The folks behind Proposition 85 are essentially the people who pushed a similar measure, Proposition 73, which 53 percent of California voters rejected in November. No doubt many of those voters don't want to limit legal abortions. But also, apparently, the opponents' argument that -- if Proposition 73 passed -- children from dysfunctional families would be harmed, resonated with Californians.

I pause when I think of ACLU attorney Maggie Crosby's lament, that "there are some kids who could no more fly to the moon than make it to court." Yet would hapless teens be better off without a parent's help? Better to have a law that mandates parental notification, unless a judge waives the requirement. Meanwhile, the law has to recognize a parent's fundamental right to know if his or her 14-year-old daughter is pregnant.

This right exists not because children are chattel, but because parents love, nurture and want to protect their children. Yes, there are sorry exceptions, but the law should presume that parents know how to guide their daughters better than a clinic. After all, parents will be watching over their daughters long after a clinic's work is done. And they'll be better watchdogs if they are alert to their daughters' choices about boys -- or men.

As the law now stands, many teens don't tell their parents because they don't have to -- they know that no matter how well off their family is, they can get a government-paid abortion by pleading poverty, and their folks will be none the wiser. That's just not right.

It's also not right when the law tells kids they can make all the wrong moves -- sex without contraception -- and enjoy the right to hide it from their parents. In my experience, many teens who get pregnant harbor a strong desire to have a child -- a baby friend. Those girls easily could get pregnant again.

The local Planned Parenthood folks estimated that, at their clinics, three in four teens get birth control after an abortion. Those girls do not need a law that presumes they know more than their parents -- they need adult supervision.

I asked Planned Parenthood Golden Gate President Dian Harrison if she could think of a parental notification law her group could support. Her answer: "It's hard to envision the need for such a law when the majority of teens are already talking to their parents." And: "Notification laws can't mandate family communication, but they can put teens at risk."

Sadly, many teens will remain at risk -- as in, having unprotected sex or sex with older men -- as long as their parents remain in the dark. For these girls' sake, the law should not presume that their parents are the enemy.