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CURRENT ISSUE:  September 5, 2005VOL. 43, NO. 15Oakland, CA

State’s bishops endorse parental notification initiative

California’s Catholic bishops have announced their support for an initiative on the Nov. 8 special election ballot that would require doctors to notify parents when a minor seeks an abortion.

In a statement released Aug. 29, the bishops urged Catholics statewide to promote the initiative as “good public policy” and to vote in its favor at the polls.

Proposition 73, called the Parents’ Right to Know Act by its sponsors, is a constitutional amendment that would prevent minors from having an abortion until 48 hours after a doctor has informed their parents or legal guardians in writing.

Parents who had been told of the procedure could waive the notification delay, which the initiative terms a “reflection period.” Doctors could also waive the notification if they deemed the abortion a medical emergency.

A judicial bypass would also be provided for cases of physical or sexual abuse by the parent or guardian, and a minor would be guaranteed access to the juvenile court if she is being coerced to have abortion.

The initiative would also require a filing of reports with the state Department of Health Services by physicians who perform abortions on minors.

The department would be required to make public a statistical report on abortions on minors which includes numbers by month and county, minors’ ages, stages of pregnancy, types of procedures, numbers of emergency procedures and numbers of judicial bypasses.

The Catholic bishops in their statement said they concurred with the intent of the initiative, which is “ensuring that parents are properly informed of potential health-related risks to their children and promoting parent-child communication and parental responsibility.”

“We hold that both the young woman’s welfare and society’s common good are best served when family communication is promoted in public policy,” the bishops said.

“A minor faced with a serious emotional, psychological and medical decision needs her parents – their love, their wisdom, their counsel. In addition, society’s common good is enhanced when family integrity is honored and parental responsibility is respected.”

The issue of parental notification and involvement has been debated in the state Legislature and through the initiative process since the 1970s.

In 1987, lawmakers passed a law to require girls younger than 18 to obtain permission from their parents for an abortion. The law was immediately appealed by Planned Parenthood and enjoined from going into effect by the courts.

In 1996, the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law. The following year, after two justices retired and were replaced, the court took the unusual step of reconsidering its vote. In July 1997, the court struck the law down as a violation of privacy rights in the state Constitution.

Since that time, several attempts to place a parental notification law on California’s ballot failed.

Life on the Ballot, the campaign committee for Proposition 73, spent $1.3 million to collect more than one million signatures. The California secretary of state’s office estimated that 682,131 were valid.

The campaign was largely funded, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times, through major donations from Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza; Don Sebastiani, a Sonoma vintner; and James Holman, the publisher of a San Diego alternative newspaper, the Reader, and the San Francisco Faith newspaper.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has endorsed the concept of parental notification but has not taken a position on Proposition 73, a spokesman in the governor’s press office told The Herald Aug. 26.

Groups including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are expected to strongly oppose the initiative.

According to a poll released Aug. 25 by the San Francisco-based Public Policy Institute of California, Proposition 73 is closely contested. Forty-eight percent of those surveyed oppose the measure while 44 percent support it and 8 percent are undecided. The poll surveyed 2,004 state residents – including 1,556 registered voters and 988 likely voters – from Aug. 8-15.

A background paper posted on the website of the California Catholic Conference in Sacramento notes that studies conducted in the late 1990s show that parental notification laws are more effective than parental consent laws in reducing both teenage pregnancies and abortions.

Carol Hogan, associate director for pastoral projects and communications at the conference, said the bishops’ public policy office will provide educational materials about Proposition 73 to pastoral leaders in the state’s 12 dioceses.

The materials, which include the bishops’ statement, bulletin inserts, discussion pieces, speaking notes and informational brochures in English and Spanish, are available at www.cacatholic.org.


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