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Proposition 4

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Some people never give up.

This November, Californians will vote on Proposition 4, which would require doctors to notify the parents of teens who have requested abortion services. Sound familiar? That's because Prop 4 is nearly identical to Props 73 and 85, which voters rejected in two consecutive elections: 2005, and 2006.

If passed, Prop 4 will amend the California state constitution to reflect the following:

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...a physician shall not perform an abortion upon a pregnant unemancipated minor until at least forty-eight (48) hours has elapsed after the physician or the physician's agent has delivered written notice to her parent personally or by mail...

The parents or parent of the young woman would receive a form letter from the doctor, letting them know that their daughter has requested an abortion:

The written notice shall be delivered by the physician or the physician's agent to the parent, either personally or by certified mail addressed to the parent at the parent's last known address with return receipt requested and restricted delivery to the addressee…A form for the notice shall be prescribed by the Department of Health Services.

If the teen would like to avoid having her parents notified, Prop 4 allows for a few workarounds. She can receive a notification waiver from them in advance of her unintended pregnancy (nothing awkward about that…”Mom, Dad, I just have this sneaking feeling that I'm going to get knocked up by accident. Could you sign this waiver so I don't have to tell you about it?”). She can attempt to get a judicial waiver (permission from a judge to not notify her parents). Or, she can have an alternate family member notified -- on the condition that she reports her parents on charges of abuse.

The option to have an alternate family member notified is the only piece of Prop 4 that sets it apart from it's most recent predecessor, Prop 85. This is in keeping with proponents attempts to change as little about the initiative as possible, and still try to convince voters that they're considering something new (the same was done to turn Prop 73 into Prop 85).

For doctors who provide abortions, the initiative is just as grim. If a doctor fails to appropriately notify a parent, Prop 4 allows for him or her to be sued either four years after the abortion was performed, or four years after a parent discovers that the abortion was performed, regardless of how old the teen (or former teen) is at that point...A.K.A., indefinitely.

Most distressing, though, is that in practice, parental involvement laws seem to have the opposite effect of their purported intentions, i.e. looking out for the health and safety of teens. A 2005 report released by the Guttmacher Institute, a leading national think tank on sexual and reproductive health, looked at the effects of these types of laws in states where they already exist, and found the following:

...research suggests that parental consent requirements can have potentially serious adverse consequences associated with delayed access to timely medical care among those teenagers who do not wish to involve their parents in their abortion decisions.

In addition to the 48-hour waiting period that's written in, the Guttmacher Institute found that pregnant teens may wait to get medical care for a number of reasons: as a result of attempting to exercise their right to get a judicial waiver, or because they've tried to cross state lines to seek an abortion in a state that doesn't have parental involvement laws, or for the simple reason that they're scared to tell their parents.

So if this initiative has been proven to be misguided, why bring it back for another vote?

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According to the San Diego Union Tribune:

Campaign spokeswoman [Katie] Short, who has nine children and is counsel to the Legal Life Defense Foundation, acknowledges that the measure is promoted by those who favor outlawing abortion. "Do we think abortions are bad? Yes," she said.

There you have it. Like most laws that restrict access to abortions in one way or another, this initiative is nothing more - or less - than part of a national strategy to chip away at reproductive rights, and in the process it's tying up state funds and carelessly playing politics with young women's health.

Photo by merfam via Flickr