Once again, anti-choice proponents who would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade have an initiative on the California ballot that if passed would be a serious blow to women's reproductive rights. The last time around I worked hard to make sure this measure didn't pass and even created a successful blog action around it. If you feel inclined to blog about this issue, let me know in the comments below and I will link your post.
This issue is not just about California. This proposition should concern everyone who cares about women's reproductive rights. The people who are trying to pass this proposition see it as a stepping stone to making it mandatory for teens to have to ask their parents' permission to obtain birth control. To overturning Roe v. Wade. If these issues are of concern to you, if you'd like to government to stay out of your uterus, please read this. Your state could be next.
The last time this proposition was on the ballot (two years ago when it was known as Prop. 85), I participated in a conference call with Margaret Crosby, an attorney for the ACLU who has been on the front lines of women's rights issues for the past thirty years. She shared with me and the other bloggers in attendance, some startling facts about the proposition and what would happen if it were enacted. The following is my write-up of the call. (Note: Any inaccuracies should be attributed to my poor note taking skills and not to anything Ms. Crosby said.)
This post is directed at "the choir." Those of you who live in California who support choice and who want to protect vulnerable teens. If you are anti-choice, I know that I am not going to change your mind on the issue just as you aren't going to change mine. We can debate in the comments all you want, but really, today, I don't feel much like battling. I know where I stand, what I believe in, the kind of country I'd like to live in, the kind of future I'd like to shape for my daughters.
Prop. 4 would prohibit abortions for California teens until 48 hours after their parents have been notified.
First and foremost, according to Ms. Crosby, know that the people who support Prop. 4 have proposed this measure as a way of restricting access to abortion by playing on our legitimate fears. Fear of sexual predators, rape, abuse, and incest.
They talk about protecting teens, but if this proposition passes, in reality, our most vulnerable teens are at risk.
If this proposition passes, it will take effect in early 2009. Pregnant teens will go to the doctor and by then the government is supposed to have forms printed that say, "Your daughter is pregnant and wants to have an abortion." Then forms are then supposed to be either 1) hand-delivered by the doctor to the parents or 2) sent by certified or first class mail. The teen must then wait a further 48 hours to have an abortion, and the postmark is when the 48 hours begins. (By noon of the 2nd day, 48 hours later.) Realistic? What do you think?
Let's talk about what happens if a teenager gets pregnant.
As an anonymous commenter on my last post about this asked:
so, you're saying that if bunny or wallie got pregnant at age 15, you couldn't care less that they kept it to themselves and went and aborted it without telling you a thing? Mmmkay..
first, that scenario is presuming a lot about my family culture, but
let's use that comment to kick off the discussion of what happens when
a teen does become pregnant. Will she turn to her parents and under
what circumstances? In the best case scenario, parents have long-established an
environment of caring, loving, open, honest, respectful communication
and support with their children. In this situation the teen is likely
to turn to her parents or a trusted older adult. They might be shocked,
but would be supportive of whatever the
best situation for their daughter would be. They would provide this
support in a loving environment.
Statistics indicate that 60% of the time, older teens do involve their parents in this situation and it raises to 90% for younger teens. If teens already involve their parents or trusted elder, why have a law mandating family communication? And if teens aren't turning to their parents, they probably have a good reason. But I am getting ahead of myself.
So why would a teen not turn to her parents? Ms. Crosby describes of spectrum of scenarios. The first and most benign is that perhaps her parents have unusually high expectations for their child. A pregnancy would shatter those expectations. Next on the spectrum is parents that have rigid views. A teen pregnancy could foment a forced marriage or the teen could be forced to have the baby. Next might be a family that is in crisis: Mom just got a breast cancer diagnosis, there is job loss, mental illness, alcoholism, or drug addiction. And, finally, the last step on the spectrum, a family that is truly dysfunctional where there is domestic violence or abuse. A teen revealing a pregnancy in this situation could be the red flag that triggers more violence.
Again, to those that say, "What parent wouldn't want to know about a
daughter's pregancy?" I respond, that is exactly the question you
should be asking. Yes, what parent wouldn't want to know. I would want
to know and I would hope that my daughter would tell me if she were in
that situation. You have to take the question one step further and ask
yourself, "WHY WOULDN'T A TEEN WANT TO TELL HER PARENTS?"
The best predictor of whether a teen will talk to her parents if she becomes pregnant is the kind of family situation she has. (So my dear anon commenter, you can probably form your own answer to your question.) And if she has a family that is anywhere on the spectrum described above, she probably has a very good reason for not talking with them. No law can instantly change a bad family situation into a good one. No law can make an abusive family more loving and supportive.
We need to protect our most vulnerable teens by voting AGAINST Prop 4.
Ms. Crosby also shared some startling statistics based on studying communities where laws similar to those have taken effect. In these communities:
- teens are often given misinformation when they try to seek information. Often they are lectured ("Well, you shoulda thought about that before you opened your legs") or directed to anti-choice teen crisis centers
- second trimester abortion rates increase as teens are forced to wait and/or navigate the legal system on their own
- judges many deny the teen access to an abortion based on their own biases
The New England Journal of Medicine did a study in Texas looking at why second-trimester abortion rates were so high. They concluded because it was pregnant 17-year-olds were waiting until they turned 18 in order to have their abortions.
As an attorney, Ms. Crosby fully supports the juvenile court system, but she wonders how, in a state as big as California, teens will get access to the system? How quickly will their cases be handled? It's already overburdened system. Will teens, especially marginalized teens be able to take time off of school, find a way to get to the court, understand the legal precedings etc. There are 60 different languages being spoken in this state.
Ms. Crosby also points out that as an attorney, she has access to the latest technology. She doesn't always have to appear in court, she often do her work/file briefs etc. via conference call, fax, or internet. Prop 4 requires that teens appear before a judge in person.
Let's come back to the teen for a moment. A teenager girl with an abusive home life is not going to want to go before a judge. Her life is about keeping secrets. Place her before a judge a she will have to tell the truth. What then? Amending our constitution is not going to help troubled families. And the American Association of Pediatricians, the American Association of Family Physicians, the California Nurses Association, the California Teacher's Association (among others)—people who care about kids and families—oppose this proposition.
To Christine, another commenter from the past post who says that freedom of choice doesn't apply to kids, that is simply false. I brought up your comment to Ms. Crosby and she said, "That's not true. The right to make reproductive decisions, as a legal matter, applies to adults as well as children." Even the Supreme Court supports this. Teenagers are competent enough to give informed consent. And if she isn't, if she is too immature, is it in her best interest to force her to have a baby?
Also, Christine commented about teens who become pregnant via rape or incest. She says Prop. 4 will ensure the perpetrators will go to jail. Christine, sorry, that is also false. Again, playing upon the fear of sexual predators is way that supporters of this proposition are trying to ensure it passes.
If a pregnant teen makes her way to a clinic, clinicians (like doctors, teachers, and anyone who works with kids) are trained mandated reporters. The best way to find out about how the teen got pregnant is to get her into the clinic in the first place. I repeat: The best way to find out about how the teen got pregnant is to get her into the clinic in the first place.
Pro-choice voters of California, I urge you to vote NO on 4 and tell all of your like-minded friends to do the same. We must defeat this proposition. Every single vote counts.