National Catholic Register


Saving Sarahs

New Calif. Parental Notification Bill



June 29 - July 5, 2008 Issue | Posted 6/24/08 at 1:33 PM


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — If at first you don’t succeed — keep trying to save lives.

California pro-lifers lost two ballot initiatives to require parental notification for abortions in 2005 and 2006. In 2008, California’s pro-lifers are back with Sarah’s Law, a similar initiative.

This time, pro-lifers hope the legislation avoids concerns about abusive parents by changing the requirement to read that “an adult family member” be notified for minors seeking abortions.

Named for “Sarah,” a 15-year-old girl who died from complications after having a secret abortion, the 1.2 million signatures needed were certified on June 2 for the November ballot.

A pro-life coalition, the Friends of Sarah led by publisher Jim Holman and winemaker Don Sebastiani, have sponsored the initiative, which was written by Katy Short, an attorney with the Life Legal Defense Fund.

The biggest battle lies ahead, since their main opponent, Planned Parenthood, has more money to spend and is likely to spend as much as it can to stop any and all laws that would bring any restrictions to abortion on demand.

Friends of Sarah spokeswoman Grace Dulaney says that the new proposition was written to address the concerns raised against previous consent initiatives.

“In our opinion, they were unfounded,” she said, “but the opposition was quite vocal with questions like, ‘What about the girl who’s going to go home and get beat up by her parents who were notified?’ The new notification is now ‘family notification,’ so that if the girl expresses fears of repercussions or abuse if the doctor notifies her parents, and an adult family member can be notified instead, such as a grandparent or aunt or adult sibling. I wouldn’t say that the people behind this are pro-life. We are pro-family.”

Sarah’s parents were told by doctors that their daughter could have been saved had she been treated sooner — which would have happened if someone in her family knew about her abortion.

Repeated phone calls to communications directors for NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) California, CARAL (California Abortion Rights Action League) and Planned Parenthood went unreturned.

Rev. Ignacio Castuera, Pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Pomona, Calif., did e-mail a statement on behalf of Planned Parenthood’s Campaign for Teen Safety: “Californians have defeated this initiative twice before because it puts teens in danger. This isn’t about Church doctrine — it’s about keeping teens safe.”

Dulaney said passing Sarah’s Law is the best way to keep teens safe — because of the danger for all girls getting secret abortions.

“The doctors need to send a minor girl home with instructions about how to take care of herself. There’s a case in California where a laminaria was inserted to soften a girl’s cervix a few days before she was scheduled for an abortion. She never showed up for the abortion and the laminaria stayed in and she died,” she said. “There are cases like this going on with major health issues that an adult needs to know about beforehand.”

She cited other cases.

“Girls are going home and told to mop the floor and clean the house and they can’t tell their parents, ‘I’m not supposed to do something physical, because my abortion is in two days.’ Or they’ve had surgery and have to go camping with their family when they need to be recovering,” she said. “The whole thing is cloaked in secrecy and the girls’ health is at stake.”

Clarke Forsythe, the President of Americans United for Life, thinks that notification is extremely important, especially looking at states where such laws are in force.

“This will have important repercussions for reducing teen pregnancy, teen abortions and teen births, as it has in other states,” he said. “There are a number of professional journals that have verified this.”

One such study, “Impact of the Minnesota Parental Notification Law on abortion and birth” by J.L. Rogers, appeared in 1991 in the American Journal of Public Health. It found that after Minnesota’s notification law was passed in 1981 the greatest decline in pregnancies was in minors age 17 or younger.

The California Catholic Conference has not yet taken a position on the initiative. Spokeswoman Carol Hogan explained, “It just qualified for the ballot and the bishops are developing a pastoral statement. When that comes out I can comment.”

Dulaney can’t fathom how opposing this measure makes any teenage girl safer.

“This is not tampering with anyone’s rights of reproduction. It’s just notifying an adult,” she said. “Maybe that adult will go on to say, ‘Hey, she needs a curfew’ or ‘She shouldn’t be dating adults when she’s only 14.’ One study in California showed that in about 75% of teen pregnancies, the average age of the males who impregnate minor girls under 18 is 22½ years old. These are adult male sexual predators.”

Robert Kumpel is based in

Valdosta, Georgia.