– A little-mentioned but controversial abortion ballot measure
in the upcoming special election could play a key role in advancing
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s package of budget reforms.
On Nov. 8, California voters will be asked whether teen-agers
should be required to notify their parents before they can get an
Gilroy – A little-mentioned but controversial abortion ballot measure in the upcoming special election could play a key role in advancing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s package of budget reforms.
On Nov. 8, California voters will be asked whether teen-agers should be required to notify their parents before they can get an abortion. But what would normally be an inflammatory and high-profile initiative has so far been buried in an avalanche of animosity between the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled state legislature over measures that would make it harder for public school teachers to get tenure, cap state spending at the governor’s discretion, redraw legislative districts and limit political contributions by unions.
A Field Poll released Wednesday didn’t mention the abortion initiative, but Terry Christensen, professor of political science at San Jose State University, said this week, that after the parties for and against all the other issues spend in excess of a $100 million to make their cases to the voters, it may well be the abortion measure that helps the governor get his way.
“It has the interesting effect of, in all probability, increasing turnout of religious conservatives who will probably support the governor,” Christensen said. “If it wasn’t on the ballot unions could be more hopeful of defeating the anti-union initiative, but the union vote will be balanced off by higher turnout of religious conservatives.”
Gilroy minister Mark Wilson said Wednesday that he won’t tell his parishioners at Foothills Foursquare Church how to vote on the initiative, but he will make sure they get an education in abortion law.
“I won’t tell people how to vote because that’s wrong,” Wilson said. “I do lay out how the Bible would address the issue. I will talk about the ramifications. I do ask people, ‘what is your responsibility?’ and say that they should vote according to their responsibility.”
If the initiative passes, the state’s Constitution will be amended to make it illegal for doctors to perform abortions on minors without first notifying at least one parent and then waiting 48 hours. According to statistics compiled by Planned Parenthood, 33 states currently have similar laws in effect. A 1987 law passed by the California legislature that required parental consent was invalidated by the state supreme court.
Albin Rhomberg, a spokesman for the initiative, said his group chose notification over consent because it’s more appealing to voters.
“Notification pretty well accomplishes the same thing because you involve the parent,” Rhomberg said. “Consent is misleading because parents don’t have the right to say no anyway. Consent is a bit of misnomer. Notification polls better. It sounds reasonable.”
Rhomberg said his group believes that laws in other states have caused teen-agers to change their behavior by either abstaining from sex or taking precautions to protect against pregnancy and disease. He said the law protects minors by allowing a judge to waive the requirement if a minor is in danger at home or due to a medical emergency.
But that clause isn’t enough for people at Planned Parenthood, who led the legal battle against the 1987 law and plan to campaign against the measure.
“We think it’s a very dangerous initiative,” said Katie Desmond, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which serves Santa Clara and San Benito counties. “Parents feel conflicted because they do want to know what’s going on with their kids, but at the end of the day what they really want is to know that their kids are safe.”
Desmond said the law threatens girls who do not have good relationships with their parents and may be put in danger if forced to divulge a pregnancy. She said young girls are not likely to look to the judicial system for help.
“It’s really unrealistic that scared kids will seek out judicial bypass,” Desmond said.
Kassi Swalboski, an 18-year-old Gilroy resident, said Wednesday that she would have been afraid to tell her mother had she ever been pregnant.
“Of course the kid isn’t going to want to tell their parents,” Swalboski said. “I wouldn’t want to tell my mom. I think abortion is wrong, but I understand why sometimes it’s necessary. It’s not the parent’s life. It’s the kid’s life.”
Current law allows any pregnant female to get an abortion, and doctors who perform them must report the pregnancies of children younger than 16 in a variety of circumstances. But those who support the measure say the current law doesn’t make sense in an environment that requires parental consent for tattoos and school field trips. Wilson said that it’s irresponsible to craft a law around protecting a small percentage of minors who may be in trouble at home.
“If a movie theater was doing its job they wouldn’t let a 12-year-old into [an R-rated] movie,” he said. “There are always going to be ‘what if’ cases. You have this small percentage of girls who could be at risk, but our society has contingency plans for children at risk.”
Christensen said the measure has a good chance to succeed, but may be defeated by some strange political bedfellows if teachers, organized labor and womens’ groups band together to fight all of the governor’s initiatives (Schwarzenegger hasn’t endorsed the abortion measure but has supported the idea in the past).
“I think this could pass if people don’t hear a lot of criticism of it,” Christensen said. “Because if you just read it, it doesn’t sound unreasonable. The crucial thing to watch is how endorsements shape up. Does labor decide to oppose this measure or say ‘you’re on your own?'”
Art Pulaski, the executive director of the California Labor Federation, and a vocal critic of the governor, could not be reached for comment. Desmond said that it’s too early to know if the groups will align, but she’s cautiously optimistic the measure can be defeated.
“We know it’s going to be a really tough fight because it’s a really complex issue. It’s a really misguided initiative,” Desmond said. “If people really consider the danger it puts our teens in, I think we have a very good chance of beating this.”
What is it?
The abortion measure on November’s ballot would:
• Require doctors to notify parents before performing abortions on minors;
• Allow a judge to waive the rule with a finding that the minor is mature enough to make the decision or would be in danger at home.
Field Poll results
For initiatives backed by Gov. Schwarzenegger
Cap state spending and alter school funding
• yes 31 percent
• no 47 percent
Lengthen time it takes for teachers to make tenure
• yes 59 percent
• no 35 percent
• yes 33 percent
• no 44 percent
• Parental notification before abortions
• Five years for teachers to receive tenure
• Cap state spending at discretion of governor
• Redraw district boundaries
• Limit union political contributions
• Discount prescription drugs for low-income residents (two measures)
• Additional regulations on electricity providers