Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has called a Special Election that is just a couple weeks away on November 8, 2005. There are eight statewide propositions on the ballot. These initiatives focus on limiting labor unions, reforming teacher tenure, political redistricting, and state spending. The Democrats contend that if these initiatives pass, Blacks and Latinos will be the hardest hit, as we depend on public services, public education, and labor protections more than other racial groups. From a health standpoint, Proposition 73 could have the most impact on the health of young Black women. We are concerned that in the Black community, there has been little said about Proposition 73 and its potential impact on the lives of our teens and young women.
Proposition 73 is an initiative to amend the constitution of the state of California to require health care providers to notify the parents of young women, under the age of 18, before providing abortion services. It mandates a waiting period of 48 hours before the doctor can provide abortion services after the parent has been notified. There is a provision for a "judicial bypass" that could allow a teen to be exempt from the parental notification requirement. The bypass permits a judicial waiver of notice based on "clear and convincing evidence of minor's maturity or minor's best interests".1
Two of the major voices in the dialogue about Proposition 73 are the "Yes on 73" group Parents Right to Know and the "No on 73" group, Campaign for Teen Safety. Both of these groups agree that teen pregnancy can have a negative impact on the teenage girl, her baby, and other family members. Both groups point to the more than 30 other states that have parental notification laws to show the impact of these laws on parents, teens, and rates of abortion. But that is where the similarities end. Each side feels strongly that this initiative will shape the lives of teens in our state in very different ways. As Black women, we need to pay close attention to the facts and most importantly get out and vote so our voices are heard on this important proposition.
Proponents of this Constitutional Amendment stress the need for parents and teens to talk to one another, especially about sex and medical procedures. They compare parental notification for reproductive health services to other things that parents must give permission for such as a flu shot or having a tooth pulled. Parents Right to Know claims that teens will be less likely to engage in reckless behavior if they know that parents will be notified.2 Studies show that teens might feel differently. In one study published by the American Medical Association, 47% of teens surveyed said they would completely stop using reproductive health care services if parental notification was mandatory, while only 1% said they would stop having sex.3 With the pandemic of HIV/AIDS hitting Black young women hardest, foregoing medical services due to lack of confidentiality could be life threatening. Black teenage girls represented 65% of the girls infected with HIV in 2002. Confidentiality of medical services is a very high priority for teens. Without it, they could choose to go without critical health services.4
Supporters of Proposition 73 want to make sure that parents have a chance to talk to their daughters and give them sound medical advice and direction. Everyone can agree that this type of communication is vital to a developing teen. Opponents of Proposition 73, including The Reproductive Rights Coalition of Los Angeles, look at how mandating this communication fails to respect the way families and communities of color interact. In the Black community, a young woman may go to her grandmother, a religious leader, an older cousin, or Auntie for guidance. Racism, poverty, sexism, and inadequate access to health services all impact how a Black teenager might make her decisions. While we would want all teens to be able to talk to a loving parent, what happens to those teens that are suffering sexual, emotional, or physical abuse at home. Passing 73 could put the most vulnerable teens in jeopardy of further abuse. Some teens could turn to desperate, dangerous measures to try to end a pregnancy. Historically, many Black women were forced to seek illegal and dangerous abortions. A constitutional amendment could lead us backwards in the struggle for reproductive justice.5
As health advocates, it is important to look at how this policy could impact our communities, as well as individual teen girls and their families. While teen pregnancy does not cause poverty, it definitely perpetuates it. Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of school and have lower family incomes in their 30s. Daughters of teen mothers are 83% more likely to become pregnant in their teens. With 27% of Black women living in poverty (compared to 9% of white women), this is an issue worthy of discussion. This proposition does not address these class or cultural issues and could make accessing comprehensive healthcare that much harder for our teens.6 Yes on 73 supporters claim that the safety of teens will be upheld when parents are part of the process, helping the teen understand all options, and providing medical records and history.
Other institutions that have an impact on the overall health of the Black community are the judicial and medical systems. Those in favor of the initiative contend that the judicial bypass will be a way for mature teens to get a judge to grant her the right to get an abortion without parental notification. "She can request a lawyer to help her... and the proceedings will be confidential, prompt, and free."7 Judges, courtrooms, and doctors-in fact, any authority figure, can be extremely scary and intimidating for a teen.
Margie Fites Seigle, CEO of the California Family Health Council, Inc. is concerned that a young woman who is unable to talk to her parents will instead turn to high-risk alternatives that may place her health and safety in danger.8 The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have cited teen safety and health in opposing these laws. The American Academy of Pediatrics responded to proponents of the initiative by saying that " mandating parental notification does not achieve the intended benefit of promoting family communication, but it does increase the risk of harm to the adolescent by delaying access to appropriate care." Some judges have stated that a judicial bypass in cases of abuse could take as long as 22 days.9
Proponents of Proposition 73 include the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Traditional Values Coalition, and The California Pro-Life Council.10 They claim that opponents fail to understand how judicial bypass and parental notification work. Some medical professionals that endorse Proposition 73 claim that teens in the thirty other states where parental notification is law have not experienced dangers to their health or interruptions in access to healthcare services due to these laws.11
Protecting the health of young Black women is vital to the health of our communities. Take a stand and let your voice be heard in this election.
1. California Voter Foundation, California Online Voter Guide, 12th Edition
3. Reddy, Diane M. (2002) "Effect of Mandatory Parental Notification on Adolescent Girls' Use of Sexual Health Care Services." 4. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288, 710-14.
5. California Women's Law Center, " Young Women of Color and Proposition 73"
6. Reproductive Rights Coalition of Los Angeles, Proposition 73 in the African American Community
7. NARAL, Facts & Issues Briefs, "Government Mandated Parental Involvement in Family Planning Services Threatens Young.
8. People's Health", www.prochoiceamerica.org
10. CFHC News and Views, Fall 2005, Issue 2
11. NARAL, "What's Proposition 73 All About?"