SACRAMENTO - Issues involving teacher tenure, the use of union dues for politics, budgetary restraints, and redistricting—all of them put on the ballot by Arnold Schwarzengger and all opposed by his political enemies—have dominated the campaigning leading up to the November 8 election in California. But the most important of all the state’s initiatives has little to do with the Governor’s political future. It is Proposition 73, the parental notification initiative, which has raised the hackles of the state’s abortion backers and which Samuel Alito or whoever becomes the next Supreme Court justice might ultimately have to adjudicate.
Proposition 73 mandates a two-day waiting period and parental notification before a minor female can terminate a pregnancy. It makes an exception for medical emergencies and allows for waivers by parents and guardians. The measure qualified with more than one millions and backers include Tom Monaghan of Dominos Pizza, vintner Don Sebastiani, and James Holman, a San Diego newspaper publisher. The state Republican Party and, more firmly, various pro-family and church groups support the measure, which, while rabidly opposed by Democrats and other members of the abortion lobby, is at least nominally bipartisan.
Endorsed by some who are otherwise pro-choice, including Schwarzenegger himself, who said he would kill anybody who performed an abortion on one of his daughters without telling him, though he later explained he did not mean this literally, the coalition behind Prop 73, known as the Parents' Right to Know Initiative, has tried to define the measure as a blow in behalf of family autonomy and responsibility.
Alvin Rhomberg, of the pro-Prop 73 campaign, told reporters that "the idea is to create a waiting or reflection period so, in principle, there is time for a parent to be involved and do some counseling."
California did pass a parental-consent law during the 1980s but the state Supreme Court nixed it. Currently in California schools, minors need parental consent to take field trips, visit the dentist, or even receive an aspirin. Editorials against the measure concede that minors need parental consent to get a tattoo. Proponents note that in California a child cannot get her ears pierced with out parental consent, so why should a 12 year old be able to get an abortion without her parents’ knowledge?
"Trusting school employees to make critical decisions about surgery on our minor children sounds absurd," said, Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, a northern California Republican with three daughters, in a recorded message on the website of the pro-73 Capitol Resource. "We are talking about a parent's right to know. After all, it's our responsibility."
But for the higher echelons of the California left, for which abortion is not just a litmus test but something approadching a theological commitment, this right to know and to be responsible causes an existential lurch. And the liberal judiciary, in one ruling after another, seems to feel the same thing, as the ruling in a recent Palmdale, California, case suggests.
School officials there subjected students in the first, third, and fifth grades to an intrusive and explicit sexual survey, without the knowledge of parents. A parent group sued, insisting they had rights and responsibilities on such matters. The notorious federal judge Stephen Reinhardt, an appointee of Jimmy Carter and leader of the very liberal and most-overturned Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that "no such specific right can be found in the deep roots of the nation's history and tradition or implied in the concept of ordered liberty."
That leaves parents, in effect, without rights. Fox News legal commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano, no conservative party-liner, said, "Judge Reinhardt must be talking about another nation, if he's suggesting that he can't find in our tradition and our history the right of parents to raise their children." For Napolitano and others, Reinhardt's opinion said that "the state knows better than parents do." Such a view he found "almost Stalin-like, by its exaltation of the state as controlling the minds of children, over the parents." It is this state power over the family on the most intimate and consequential of decisions that proponents of Proposition 73 are trying to break.
California Democrats oppose Proposition 73 (and all the other hotly contested ballot measures) but the heavy lifting against Prop 73 has been handled by Planned Parenthood, under a front group created for the purpose called the Campaign for Teen Safety. The Campaign has argued, in an echo of all the coat hanger arguments of past abortion battles, that the threat of parental consultation may force teens into dangerous "back alley" abortions.
As the arguments against Prop 73 on the Secretary of State's website puts it: "Mandatory notification laws make scared, pregnant teens who can’t go to their parents do scary things, instead of going to the doctor to get the medical help they need. In other states, when parental notification laws make teenagers choose between talking with parents or having illegal or unsafe abortions, some teens choose the illegal abortion, even though it is dangerous. Sometimes teenagers are just teenagers."
Behind the shaky logic and literacy of such arguments, the anti-73 forces seem to relied on the clichés of hardcore feminism—that families are dark theatres of abuse, where patriarchal figures, even when they are not molesting the girls under their control, will beat them for their sexual misbehavior. Therefore, according to the malicious syllogism of such thinking, parental input on abortion can be damaging to a pregnant teen’s well being. The decisions of school officials in such cases, secretly taking students off campus for abortions, is assumed to be entirely neutral and more beneficial than anything the parents might want.
Prop 73 defines abortion as causing the "death of the unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born." While this is troubling, for obvious reasons, to opponents of Prop 73, the rhetoric of the campaign has not touched upon the deep and divisive questions of abortion. Proponents of Prop 73 are not pitching it as an effort to overturn Roe v Wade.
The question of "who decides" has been central to the campaign against Prop 73, but cui bono? who benefits, is equally relevant. No analyst on either side of the measure has attempted to determine the effect of the Parent Right to Know Initiative on the client stream of "abortion providers," who make their livelihood from a practice that can be dangerous even in legal clinics.
Teen abortions are marginally down nationwide but California remains fourth highest in the nation by some counts. The status quo, in which some parents are kept in the dark about this procedure, has contributed to this trend.
Despite an increasingly desperate campaign by the state’s abortion regime, a November 3 Los Angeles Times poll showed Prop 73 winning with 51 percent, the only measure drawing more than half of likely voters. The final outcome will be determined by whether voters decide to deliver a blow against a status quo supported by the political left and upheld by unelected judges, that exalts the power of the state above that of parents in a "Stalin-like" situation that has made many families feel like endangered species.
Lloyd Billingsley, a former staff writer for Heterodoxy, writes from Sacramento.
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