October 19, 2006
Calif., Ore. Voters to Decide Parental Notice
By Christine Vestal, Staff Writer
Voters in California and Oregon will decide Nov. 7 whether to join 35 other states in preventing teenage girls from getting abortions without a parent's knowledge.
While a Sept. 25 poll funded by a Portland television station indicates a majority of Oregon voters intend to approve the measure, California's electorate is split over the emotionally-charged issue, according to a recent non-partisan survey by The Field Poll.
Both ballot initiatives - Oregon's Measure 43 and California's Proposition 85 - would require physicians to notify parents at least 48 hours before performing an abortion on their minor daughter. Both make no exception for rape or incest and automatically waive the requirement in medical emergencies.
If voters in Oregon or California approve the measure, it will be the first restrictive abortion law to be adopted in either state in more than a decade, according to The Guttmacher Institute , a research organization that supports abortion rights.
In both states, voters rejected similar proposals in the past: Oregon in 1990 and California in 2005. Florida voters approved a 2004 ballot measure requiring parental consent before performing an abortion on a minor and in 1998 Colorado voters approved a parental notification measure.
Proponents of the parental notification measures say the initiatives would protect the health of girls 18 and younger and discourage them from behaviors that lead to unwanted pregnancies.
Rather than protecting their health, opponents argue parental notification requirements endanger the health of minors by causing them to delay abortions or seek illegal procedures. They also maintain that fear of parental notification has had no affect on the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Both proposals on the ballot this year comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling by allowing girls the option of seeking a so-called judicial bypass, if they do not want their parents to be notified. If the bypass option is elected, a girl can explain to a judge why she believes an abortion is in her best interest. If the judge considers the girl mature enough to make the decision, a waiver of parental notice or consent must be made within a short time, typically 48 hours.
States have passed two types of laws aimed at involving parents in a minor's decision to have an abortion. Parental consent laws require one or both parents to approve of the procedure in writing. Parental notification laws, such as the ones on the ballots in Oregon and California, simply require that doctors notify parents before performing an abortion on a minor.
The first law requiring parental involvement in an abortion decision was passed by Utah in 1973. Other states followed, resulting in a total of 35 states with laws requiring parental consent, parental notification or both.
Oregon, New York, Vermont, Washington, Connecticut and Hawaii are the only states with no law requiring parental involvement in a minor's abortion decision.
Nine states - California, Alaska, New Hampshire, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, Montana, Idaho and Nevada - have passed parental involvement statutes that were immediately rejected by courts for violating privacy and equal protection clauses in their state constitutions. California's suspended law was enacted in 1987.
In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth ruled that state laws requiring parental involvement must ensure that women's health is protected by including an exemption from either requirement in medical emergencies and by giving girls the option of seeking a judicial bypass.
This year the high court upheld that decision, ruling in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England that a New Hampshire parental notification law must allow doctors to quickly perform an abortion without notifying parents in medical emergencies. The case was sent to a lower court to determine whether state lawmakers intentionally left out the medical emergency waiver. If so, the court said the law would be overturned.
In an unusual case, the Illinois Supreme Court last month issued judicial bypass rules for a 1995 parental notice law that was enjoined by a court for lacking a bypass mechanism.
Although the state's high court previously said that lawmakers, not judges, should prescribe the rules, Chief Justice Robert Thomas called into a Christian radio show last month and announced that the court would write the long overdue rules to allow Illinois, like every other Midwestern state, to enforce its parental notice law. State Attorney General Lisa Madigan is reviewing the case to determine whether to ask the lower state court to resurrect the eleven-year-old law.
Twenty-three states enforce parental consent laws requiring at least one parent to sign a statement approving of the procedure, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights , a legal advocacy group that promotes abortion rights. Of the 23, Mississippi and North Dakota require both parents to approve the procedure.
Twelve other states enforce parental notification laws. Utah enforces both consent and notification laws.
Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin allow girls alternatives to parental consent such as the consent of a grandparent or sibling, a doctor-authorized waiver, or state-approved counseling.
Colorado, Delaware, Iowa and West Virginia offer girls the same type of alternatives to parental notice requirements.