Prop. 4: Third Try for Parental Notification of Abortion

Proposition 4 would amend the California Constitution to require that a parent or other adult family member be notified in writing at least 48 hours before a physician performs an abortion for women younger than age 18 with a few exceptions.

Prop. 4 is a revised version of Prop. 85, which California voters rejected by an 8% margin in the 2006 general election. Prop. 85 itself was a revised version of Prop. 73, which was defeated by a 6% margin in the special election of 2005.

Prop. 4 would not apply in a medical emergency.

Women under 18 who are married, on active duty in the armed forces, or legally emancipated would be exempt.

Unemancipated minors would have the option of going to a juvenile court to request a waiver of notification by explaining the reason and giving “clear and convincing evidence” to the judge that they are “both sufficiently mature and well-informed to decide [for themselves] whether to have an abortion.”

Alternatively, parents could give their daughters a notarized waiver of their right to notification in advance.

Changes From Previous Efforts

The current ballot measure differs from earlier ones in that it allows a minor woman to elect to have another “adult family member” instead of a parent or guardian notified. To do this, she must attest in writing that she “fears physical, sexual or severe emotional abuse from a parent who would otherwise be notified” based on “a pattern of physical, sexual or severe emotional abuse of her exhibited by a parent.”

The statement alleging the abuse must be given to the selected “adult family member” by the physician, and the allegation of abuse immediately must be reported to appropriate law enforcement and child protective agencies.

Proponents of parental notification were convinced the most damaging argument against the 2006 initiative had been encapsulated in a Planned Parenthood-sponsored commercial aired toward the end of the campaign.

“Think outside your bubble,” it urged voters. “Some girls do not enjoy the relationship with their parents that you may have. Prop. 85 would force girls to notify an abusive or violent parent that they are pregnant. And this puts them in real danger.”

The ad did not acknowledge that the measure offered a judicial bypass option.

However, Grace Dulaney, a spokesperson for the Yes on Prop. 4 campaign, said, “It is not unreasonable to be concerned about the effect of parental notification requirements on girls from abusive homes.”   

Attorney Catherine Short of Ojai, legal director of the Napa-based Life Legal Defense Foundation and a co-author of Prop. 73, drafted the new measure to blunt the opposition’s “main argument.”

It includes a clause permitting a minor to substitute a “grandparent, stepparent, foster parent, aunt, uncle, sibling, half-sibling or first cousin” to receive the advance notification, as long as that person was over the older than 21.

“If that’s the problem, now we’ve addressed it head on,” Short says. “Notifying another adult family member achieves our goal. Someone in the family knows what’s going on. It’s no longer a secret abortion.”

Several other changes were made to the proposed amendment. The civil penalty has been doubled — to $2,000 under Prop. 4 — for anyone who lies in order to help a girl under 18 obtain an abortion in violation of the measure’s notification requirements.

There also is a new liability timeframe, specifying that parents wrongfully denied notification has up to four years after their daughter turns 18 or four years after learning about the provider’s negligence to file a civil lawsuit.

Constitutional Amendment

James Holman — the founder and publisher of the San Diego Reader, the third-largest alternative weekly newspaper in the country — had been the most generous backer by far of the two previous parental notification ballot initiatives, but he harbored reservations about a third try. 

But when private polling found a 73% favorable reaction to the revamped measure, with its family-member notification alternative, Holman decided to try a ballot initiative again.

“The initiative process is a very effective and worthwhile way to effect change,” Holman said. “And this, family notification, is an issue most reasonable pro-lifers and pro-choicers can agree on. This is easily an issue for the common good.”

Margaret Crosby, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, and Kathy Kneer, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, do not share Holman’s view that Prop. 4 represents a reasonable compromise on the question of parental notification.   

Crosby argues that embedding such a law in a document as fundamental as the state constitution — particularly one that runs to eight pages and dictates the wording of specific forms to be provided by the Department of Health Services — is a poor way to make policy.

“This really is an incredibly detailed regulation of a health care procedure,” she says. “I’ve never seen anything like it in a state constitution. And there would be no way to modify it except by another constitutional amendment.”

Kneer of Planned Parenthood believes Prop. 4’s definitions are too narrow. “Even if a teen saw her older sister getting beaten after telling her parents she was pregnant, it wouldn’t meet the criterion. The abuse has to be related to her.

Campaign Strategies

Advocates of parental notification acknowledge it is unusual to bring a measure before the voters three times in quick succession.

“If you’re against it, you call this ‘abuse of process,'” concedes Albin Rhomberg, spokesperson for the Yes on Prop. 4 campaign. “If you’re in favor, you call it ‘commitment.'”

Short contends that “the proponents of ‘Sarah’s Law’ … are committed to protecting young girls from the dangers of secret abortions. These dangers include not only the medical risks of surgery kept hidden from parents…but also the physical and emotional risks to girls victimized by sexual predators who use secret abortions to cover up their crimes.”       

Supporters of the ballot measure argue that Planned Parenthood opposes parental notification because the not-for-profit organization provides abortions in many of its 100-odd clinics statewide and thus has a financial stake in maintaining the status quo.

Kneer responds that abortion accounts for only 3% of the organization’s services — which she says are primarily focused on preventive care, sex education and contraception.

Moreover, Kneer says that more than 90% of Planned Parenthood patients qualify for Medi-Cal, which will pay for abortions, but its reimbursement rates are notoriously low and have long been frozen. Federal funds do not cover abortion.

“No one can make money on Medi-Cal” abortions, Kneer insists.

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