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Prop 4 in California: Should Pregnant Teens Tell Their Parents?

BY: SWETA VOHRA//

Every Tuesday E.B Troast offers students at El Cerrito High School free and confidential advice on sex, birth control, pregnancy and other sexual issues.

“Confidentiality and respect is definitely the reason teens come [here],” said junior Caitlin Taffe.

Taffe said that she and her friends sometimes find it difficult to discuss issues related to sex with parents. For them, Planned Parenthood express sites like the one run by Troast offer an excellent source of information and support, she said.

Tia Harris, a 17-year old El Cerrito High student added:  “If you don’t want everybody to know about your business, it’s really easy to come to a place like this.”

Troast agreed the promise of confidentiality is key in getting teens to walk into the center. And that privacy, many pro-choice advocates said, will end for pregnant teenagers if voters approve Proposition 4, the California initiative to require minors to notify a parent 48 hours before an abortion. Proposition 4 also changes the state constitution, a consequence that would have ramifications far beyond the decision a pregnant teenager makes, according to Shaney Scott, legislative affairs director at Planned Parenthood Shasta-Diablo.

“There would be a dramatic change,” if such an initiative passed, said Scott.

Basically, she said, it will “shut the door on teens for access to comprehensive, medically accurate information.”

This is the third time in four years that a parental notification initiative has been on the ballot. In 2005, it was defeated 53 percent to 47 percent and in 2006, it lost 54 percent to 46 percent. In a poll released late October by the Public Policy Institute of California, Proposition 4 has 46 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed.

Proposition 4, opponents said, would mean educators like Troast, who counsel teenagers on condoms, sexually transmitted diseases and other private matters, will find it more difficult to establish a trusting relationship with teens.

“We’re going to tell on you – that’s how teens will look at it,” Scott said.

Kiki Phelps-Johnson, a junior at El Cerrito High School, said that if such a law passed, girls who cannot talk to their parents “would be even more scared to talk to someone else because they’ll think it would eventually get back to their parents.”

Phelps-Johnson, who is one month pregnant, is able to talk to her mother, who is supportive of whatever decisions Johnson makes. But Johnson knows that several of her peers would have trouble doing the same and this type of law would create a barrier to approach anyone for support or guidance.

Junior student Taffe says that some of her friends’ parents don’t even know they are having sex and if parents found out, that would get them into serious trouble. But add a law like this, said Taffe, and “there would be a lot more illegal abortions,” because girls would feel scared and lost without a sense of privacy.

Harris, the 17-year-old, said “sometimes its good and sometimes its bad,” to involve parents. She said a friend went through two abortions without her parents knowing and if they had, the situation would have been worse. But, she added, if a girl gets an infection or something worse, from an abortion, “maybe it’s a good thing if parents know.”

This year’s initiative has been slightly amended to allow a teen too afraid to tell her parents, to go to another trusted adult, such as a grandmother or uncle.

But Taffe said the decision to have an abortion is the girl’s and not the adult’s choice. “No matter what that is her child and her body.”

Phelps-Johnson said, “you have to give teens the respect to make their own choice,” and laws like this allow other people to make decisions about a young woman’s private matters.

For their part, advocates of the proposition argue that minors in California cannot use a tanning salon without a parent’s consent; therefore something as significant as abortion should require parental notification.

The California Voter Information website states in the arguments for the proposition, “an adult who cares about her [the minor] can help her understand all options, ensure competent care, and provide her medical history.”

“No teen ever died from getting a tan,” said Scott of Planned Parenthood Shasta-Diablo and that argument is “detracting from the true importance of keeping teen confidentiality protected.”

Supporters of the proposition also argue that parental notification laws can decrease the overall teenage pregnancy rate. According to Yeson4.com, parental notification acts have significantly reduced teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases in more than 30 states.

But it is hard to discern if, in fact, that is true. According to a 2006 article in the New York Times, these laws “do not appear to have produced the sharp drop in teenage abortion rates that some advocates hoped for.”

An analysis conducted by the Times studied six states, which enacted similar laws, found while some abortion rates slightly rose or slightly dipped, there was little overall effect. Yet, a study by the New England Journal of Medicine, also in March 2006, found an average 16 percent drop in abortions among Texas teenagers between 15 and 17 after the parental notification law went into effect.

According to economist Ted Joyce from Baruch College, who has studied parental involvement laws, many teenagers also opt to receive abortions out of state and therefore, may have an impact on decreasing abortion rates in their own states.

If they really wanted to help young women, according to junior student Taffe, “there should be a proper bill to educate teens on safe sex and risks of abortions.”

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