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Proposition 85: What’s At Stake for Our Teens?
In the November 2005 Special Election called by Governor Schwarzenegger, Proposition 73 was defeated by an approximately 5 percent margin.1 NBC News in San Diego describes Proposition 85, which appears on the ballot in the coming election on November 7, 2006, "as a sort of political ‘déjà vu.' It's a ballot measure similar to one rejected in the California special election but is back before the voters".2 Proposition 85, like 73, proposes a Constitutional Amendment that would require parental notification and a 48 hour waiting period before a minor can terminate a pregnancy.3 It is critical to the health of young, Black women and teen girls to vote on this important measure that can impact access to reproductive health care.
California's adolescent pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates have declined in the last ten years. The largest decline since 1991 by race was for Black women. The birth rate for Black teens aged 15 to 19 fell 47 percent between 1991 to 2004. Latina teen birth rates declined 21 percent between 1991 and 2004. The rates of both Latinas and Blacks, however, remain higher than for other groups.4 As a result, there are still many of our teen girls facing this unfortunate situation. If passed, Proposition 85 will have a tremendous effect on the options they have in dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.
Supporters of Proposition 85 think that it will become state law this time around in light of the removal of what supporters called "problem language" which implied that life began at conception. The removal of this language is the only major change. Under current law, teens have the same rights to receive abortion services as adults. This includes minors in various state health programs, such as Medi-Cal. Even with this language changed, the No on 85- Campaign for Real Teen Safety says that parental notification will have little impact on reducing teen pregnancy and abortions in California.5 In the Los Angeles Opinion piece urging voters to vote "NO" on 85, it stated, "What we've seen in the other states that have laws like that -- those teens then resort to back-alley abortions, leaving them injured and sometimes dead. They're attempting to self-induce abortion, they're delaying access to medical care. They're traveling over state lines, they're even going to Mexico."6
Many of the major newspapers across the state have come out against the measure. Many feel that by requiring doctors to notify a girl's parents (or seek court permission) before ending her pregnancy, Proposition 85 interferes with the doctor-patient relationship. The measure would almost invariably delay abortions, and because teens are more likely to find out later rather than sooner that they are pregnant, it could lead to more later-term procedures, which are riskier and more complicated.7 For these reasons, professional caregivers like the California Medical Association, California Association of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics all oppose Prop 85.8
The League of Women Voters Education Fund did an unbiased analysis of the issues.9 In their analysis they point out that supporters of the proposition believe that when teens know their parents will be notified, they will decrease their risky sexual behavior. However, studies show that many teens feel differently. In a 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.10 The California Women's Law Center asks, when Black women and teen girls make up an astounding 67 percent of all new HIV infections, can we risk scaring them away from seeking reproductive health care11?
Women's health advocates from the Reproductive Justice Coalition of Los Angeles (RJCLA) feel the threat of parental notification will decrease our teens' use of medical care. Many teens are afraid of disappointing their parents and will go to great lengths to avoid it.12 RJCLA, which focuses on the reproductive health of women of color, immigrants and teen girls, also adds that this measure does not respect the way many Black families parent our teens. Teen girls may feel more comfortable going to an "Auntie", older cousin, a minister, or a grandparent to talk about a pregnancy. Notifying a parent in these situations takes this decision out of our communities and legislates how we communicate with our children.13
Members of the Yes on 85 group believe that this proposition will increase teens' communication with their parents. They believe that Prop. 85 will allow the parent to help the child make health care decisions and provide needed healthcare histories to the physicians and other health care providers.14 Interestingly a study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 61 percent of pregnant teens already tell their parents and 99 percent tell a trusted adult such as a minister. Medical staff routinely counsel teens to talk to their parents.
Sadly, not all families are safe or healthy environments for kids and teens to come forward in these situations. There are some teens that may be in danger if a parent is notified. Some teens live with violence or neglect and some teens are being sexually abused. The Contra Costa Times writes that Prop 85 leaves the most vulnerable of teens unprotected. "Sometimes...parents are the problem, and the girl's very safety is at stake. We must not forget that not all youths have involved parents; many parents aren't even around."15 In a study by Dr. Gail Wyatt of UCLA, she found that 40 percent of Black women reported unwanted sexual contact before the age of 18.16 Notifying a parent in a situation where a teen is being abused could get them kicked out of the house, subject them to further abuse and punishment or cause a confrontation with a family member who caused the pregnancy.17 Although supporters of 85 say that parental notification could help alert a parent about sexual abuse, health care providers are already mandated to report instances of sexual or other types of abuse of a minor.
Proposition 85 does provide for exceptions to parental notification when a delay could "create serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function", with a signed waiver from a parent or guardian, or with a waiver from the court.18 This would allow a teen to ask a judge to permit the termination of her pregnancy without notifying her parents. The teen would not be responsible for court costs and would be appointed a temporary guardian. For many Black families, a long history of racism within the courts would make this an intimidating prospect, let alone for a scared, pregnant, embarrassed teen girl. Those opposed to 8519 believe that this might also allow judges to "play politics" from the bench.
Reproductive justice for all women and girls is vital to our health. Discuss Proposition 85 with your friends and loved ones. Encourage everyone you know to vote on November 7, 2006.
3 California General Election, Official Voter Information Guide, www.ss.ca.gov
4 The Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, www.teenpregnancy.org
5 No on 85-for Real Teen Safety, 916-669-4802, www.noon85.com
8 NARAL Pro-Choice California, www.prochoice.org
9 League of Women Voters, Education Fund, www.lwvc.com
10 Reddy, Diane M. (2002) "Effect of Mandatory Parental Notification on Adolescent Girls' Use of Sexual Health Care Services." Journal of the American Medical Association, 288, 710-14.
11 California Women's Law Center, " Young Women of Color and Proposition 73"
12 NARAL Pro-Choice California, www.prochoice.org
13 Reproductive Justice Coalition of Los Angeles, Flyer on African American community and Prop 85
14 Yes on 85/Parents' Right to Know and Child Protection, 866-828-8355, www.Yeson85.net
16 Africana Voices Against Violence, Statistics, www.ase.tufts.edu/womenscenter/peace/africana
17 League of Women Voters, Education Fund
18 California General Election, Official Voter Information Guide, www.ss.ca.gov
19 NARAL Pro-Choice California, www.prochoice.org