Is Ignorance Bliss?

    Eight years ago, Jenny Egan found herself in a tough situation: 16 years old, seven weeks pregnant and with only one day to decide whether or not to have an abortion.

    “It was incredibly hard to make that decision,” Egan said. “[The clinic I went to] had a doctor who came [only] once a month. I had a day to decide because the next time he came I would have been too much into the pregnancy.”

    Egan is now 24 and works as a media relations liaison for the American Civil Liberties Union in New York City. At the time of her decision, she lived in Oregon, a state that did not have parental notification laws. She eventually went through with the abortion without her parents’ knowledge.

    On Nov. 8, California voters will decide the fates of young women in the same situation Egan faced. On the ballot is Proposition 73, which would require physicians to notify parents of pregnant minors who want to have an abortion.

    While experts, critics and supporters of the initiative have been making their beliefs known in increasingly politicized campaigns, some wonder what the real implications of the proposition would be on young girls.

    If the proposition passes, abortion providers would be required to send written notification to parents through mail. Providers would then have to allow a “reflection period” of at least 48 hours after notification. Abortion can only be performed after that time elapses or if a parent gives the provider a written waiver of notification.

    “I was 18 when I had my abortion, [so] this proposition would not have impacted me,” said Life Perspectives President Michaelean Fredenburg, whose organization helped to write Proposition 73. “But I know in retrospect how helpful it would have been to have parental guidance.”

    Minors can get a waiver from a judge to bypass the notification requirement. According to the proposition, the entire process should only take about 48 hours.

    Andrea Baumgardner was also 16 at the time of her pregnancy. In contrast to Egan, Baumgardner, who lives in North Dakota, was required to have both of her parents consent to her abortion. She eventually went through the judicial process and was granted a waiver from a judge. Baumgardner said that the process took three weeks.

    “The most traumatic part was being pregnant,” said Baumgardner, now 37 and working as a chef. “I remember being in the judge’s chamber, but I never had a doubt that I should get a bypass.”

    Baumgardner told her parents of her decision five months later.

    “I am thankful that I got to tell my parents in my own way,” she said. “They were mostly hurt that I didn’t tell them.”

    Opponents of the proposition question the effectiveness and safety of a parental notification law. They say that it would only force young girls to get illegal and potentially dangerous abortions.

    They also say that a notification law would only prolong the process and increase risks associated with late-term abortions. Vince Hall, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, said that the majority of young girls already delay their abortions.

    “There are tremendous dangers associated when teenagers delay seeking medical care,” Hall said. “Those teens who have to choose between having an abortion and going through with the pregnancy are sometimes paralyzed by indecision. Even if they do decide to go ahead with the pregnancy, they [may] have already missed critical prenatal care.”

    However, proponents argue that parents have the right to know what is happening with their children. They say that parents may be better equipped to ensure competent medical care if their daughters do decide to get an abortion. Supporters also view parental involvement as especially critical since they are the ones who know best the medical history of their children.

    “We require notification for any other medical procedure: ear piercing, tattoos, and other things that don’t have the types of implications that an abortion has,” Fredenburg said.

    There are currently 35 states that have parental notification laws. In 1987, the California Legislature passed a law that made parental consent necessary for minors. It was later found to be unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court and thus was never enacted.

    Each side of the proposition has questioned the other’s motives. Critics of the proposition allege that California has historically been one of the most liberal states when it comes to abortion rights, and that Proposition 73 is being used to slowly chip away at those rights. They also point to the proposition’s text, which defines abortion as the killing of an “unborn child.”

    “The proposition names the fetus as an unborn child,” said Chelsea Cormier, president of UCSD’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. “This is the first step in saying abortion is murder and that [the] right [to an] abortion should be taken away.”

    But proponents of the initiative reject the claims, saying Proposition 73 will not affect rights to abortion.

    “[Opponents of the proposition] should know better,” Fredenburg said. “It does not and cannot affect the availability of abortion.”

    Those claiming foul play have also pointed to the contributions of San Diego publisher James Holman, a well-known anti-abortion activist. Holman, who owns the San Diego Reader as well as some lay Catholic publications, has personally contributed almost $800,000 in support of the proposition through Life on the Ballot, which bankrolled efforts to place the initiative on the ballot.

    Albin Rhomberg, a spokesperson for Life on the Ballot, said that the claim that Proposition 73 will lead to a lower availability of abortions is an attempt to distract voters from the issue. He says that Holman has a stake in the proposition because he is the father of four girls.

    “Certainly the people who are supporting and opposing the proposition are those who have substantial interest,” Rhomberg said. “Holman has four daughters between the ages of 9 and 18 years old and that’s part of his involvement.”

    Rohmberg contends that opponents of the proposition have even more to gain if the proposition fails.

    “Planned Parenthood has far more resources,” Rohmberg said. “They get a lot of revenue for doing abortions and I believe that they have very strong financial interest in this issue.”

    California voters seem to be just as split on the issue of parental notification. The latest polls show that 49 percent oppose the proposition and 41 percent support it, a reverse from previous weeks.

    “I’m surprised that there’s been a switch in opinions in the past few weeks,” political science professor Thad Kousser said. “This is one of those issues that tap into the basic feelings about reproduction rights; you don’t usually see a lot of variation.”

    Whatever the outcome of Proposition 73, both Baumgardner and Egan say that having their parents know about their abortions before they happened would certainly have impacted their decisions. Egan, who grew up Mormon, said that her mother, who had initially been shamed by her abortion, now believes that she made the right decision.

    “If I would have had to notify my parents, I wouldn’t have been able to have an abortion,” Egan said. “But 10 years later, my mother would say that I made the right decision. I am positive that I would be a fraction of the person that I am now if my decision had been different.”

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