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Abortion Notification, Kids’ Hospitals Return to Ballot

For the third time in four years, California voters will be asked to prohibit abortion for minors until an adult family member has been notified.

There are a few changes but, essentially, it’s the same proposition offered in 2005 and 2006. Voters rejected it both times, a little more loudly the second time.

Its appearance on the November ballot will establish a state record for persistence – or futility, depending on your perspective. This is the first three-peat in so short a time span since California’s initiative process was established in 1914.

“It’s like flying a kite,” said Don Sebastiani, a leading proponent of all three initiatives. “We’re going to keep going out there to fly that kite every day until the wind is right.”

Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, predicts prevailing winds will defeat this effort, perhaps in such lopsided proportions that voters won’t see a similar ballot measure floated again next year.

“This is going to be an historic turnout in November, and we’re pretty confident we’ll get into double-digit margins in defeating this thing,” Kneer said. “Maybe with a big enough margin, we’ll get the message across that this is a dangerous initiative for California.”

2 of 8 Propositions Deal With Health Care

So far, eight ballot initiatives have qualified for the November ballot in California — two of them dealing with health care.

The Children’s Hospital Bond Act of 2008 might also look familiar to California voters. It is a follow-through of a similar initiative voters approved overwhelmingly in 2004. Four years ago, nearly 60% of the voters and almost every county in the state supported a plan to create $750 million in bonds for children’s hospitals.

Supporters say about 70% of that money is used up and that more is needed down the road. The 2008 initiative authorizes the state to sell $980 million in general obligation bonds for capital improvement projects at children’s hospitals.

The measure specifically identifies five UC children’s hospitals as eligible bond fund recipients. Other children’s hospitals must meet another set of eligibility criteria based on hospitals’ performance in 2001 or 2002.

The measure requires 80% of the money to go to hospitals treating children’s aliments such as leukemia and diabetes. The other 20% would go to UC general acute care hospitals.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office expects both health care initiatives will cost the state millions annually. The bond measure for children’s hospitals would tap the state’s general fund for about $2 billion over 30 years, with payments of around $67 million annually.

The cost of implementing the abortion notification measure is a little harder to predict, but LAO expects the measure would result in “several million annually” for health and social service programs, and court costs.

Changes in Abortion Notification Initiative

The biggest change in the language of the abortion notification initiative is broadening the scope of who must be notified when a minor seeks an abortion.

“The physician would not have to notify a parent, necessarily, although that’s still the preferred option,” said Albin Rhomberg, a leader in the last two campaigns and this one as well.

“Now, when the physician involved is being told by the minor patient that there’s an existing situation of parental abuse, the physician can notify another adult — a guardian, grandparent or sibling,” Rhomberg said.

In 2005, Proposition 73 lost by 5.6 percentage points, 52.8% to 47.2%. In 2006, the margin grew to 8.4 percentage points, with Proposition 85 losing 54.2% to 45.8%.

Rhomberg said initiative proponents considered the possibility of voter backlash, people getting tired of seeing the same measure for the third time.

“We decided it depends on whether you think the goal is a good goal or not,” Rhomberg said. “We continue to believe this is a good goal, and we believe the majority of Californians agree with us. If it weren’t for Planned Parenthood spending $12 million to defeat the last two initiatives, we’re sure this would have passed.”

Money Not the Answer, Opponents Say

“Money alone isn’t enough to change the outcome,” said Planned Parenthood’s Kneer.

“We think voters look at these things very carefully, and I don’t think I could persuade them with any amount of money if the facts didn’t support our contention. And our contention is that these are dangerous propositions,” Kneer said.

“Mr. Rhomberg and Mr. Holman and Mr. Sebastiani have a lack of real-world understanding that prohibits them from seeing what this initiative would do,” Kneer said, referring to the leading proponents of the measure.

“Among other things, it would delay access to health care for a lot of people, and it would cause some desperate teens to do desperate things. Nobody wants that,” Kneer said.

Two Primary Financial Backers

James Holman, a newspaper publisher in San Diego, and Sebastiani, winemaker and former Republican Assembly member from Sonoma, are the primary financial backers of the ballot measure, which supporters call Sarah’s Law.

Sebastiani has reportedly contributed about $500,000 so far this year. Holman is reported to have put up $1.4 million this time, bringing his total contributions for the three campaigns to $4.6 million, so far.

Named for a 15-year-old girl who died after an abortion, the new ballot measure will likely generate millions in campaign spending over the next five months, most of it by the opposition if history is any indication.

“We figure we were outspent 10-to-1, maybe 20-to-1, the last two times, and we expect to be outspent again this time,” Sebastiani said. “We’ll do the bare minimum just to get our message out there.”

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