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What is Sarah’s Law, the Child and Teen Safety and Stop Predators Act?
Sarah’s Law is a constitutional amendment initiative currently gathering signatures to appear on the November 2008 ballot. Sarah’s Law requires a doctor to notify a parent, or, in case of parental abuse, another adult family member of an unemancipated minor 48 hours before performing an abortion on her. It also requires a doctor to obtain the personal consent of a minor before performing the abortion and allows for court intervention if a minor is being coerced to have an abortion.
Where did Sarah’s Law come from? Whose idea was it?
This is not a new idea. Parental involvement laws (that is, laws requiring either parental notification or parental consent before an abortion can be performed on a minor) have been passed in 44 states and are in effect in over 30 states. In several states, parental involvement laws have been in effect for many years. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld these laws.
Why is Sarah’s Law an amendment to the California Constitution?
The California State Constitution contains a “right of privacy.” Although in 1972, when the privacy amendment was added to the state constitution, it had nothing to do with abortion, this “right to privacy” has since been interpreted by our state courts to create a California state right to abortion, including a right of minors to obtain an abortion without parental consent. California’s parental consent law, Health and Safety Code Section 12345, (passed by the California Legislature and signed by the Governor in 1987) was upheld by the California Supreme Court in 1996, but that decision was reversed in 1997, thus blocking the implementation of California’s parental consent law. Sarah’s Law is a constitutional amendment so that its implementation cannot be blocked by California state courts.
What is an “unemancipated minor”?
For purposes of Sarah’s Law, an “unemancipated minor” is a girl under the age of 18 who has never been married, is not on active duty in the military, and has not been declared emancipated (that is, free of parental control) by a court.
Sarah’s Law is called the Child and Teen Safety and Stop Predator Act. How does it safeguard children and teens?
Sarah’s Law protects children and young teens in many ways: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
First, a parent or other adult family member who is notified of a daughter’s planned abortion can counsel her to make sure she understands and has considered all her options, rather than leaving the girl to make the decision alone, or worse, as often happens, under pressure from others who don’t have her best interests in mind. The parent or close relative can assist her in getting medical care. A frightened young girl anxious to end her pregnancy is not likely to be well informed and careful, or even to know what to be careful about. Many abortion clinics employ doctors who have been disciplined by the state medical board for incompetence, negligence, and criminal misconduct, including sexual misconduct.
The parent or family member can ensure the doctor gets a complete medical history of the minor and is informed of any allergies or adverse reactions to medications. They can also be alert for and respond quickly to post-abortion complications, such as infection and hemorrhage, that left untreated can quickly become serious and even life-threatening. A minor trying to keep her abortion secret from her parents is likely to ignore or try to hide symptoms of such complications until it is too late.
Parental notification also alerts parents or other close relatives to a sexual relationship their daughter is in, often with an older adult male, which may be abusive, coercive, or just plain detrimental to her physical and emotional well-being. Abortion providers rarely report sexual abuse or statutory rape to authorities. Adult boyfriends often encourage and coerce young girls to have secret abortions to cover up evidence of statutory rape. A study of over 46,000 births to school-age girls in California found that over two-thirds were impregnated by adult men whose mean age was 22.6 years. Notification provides parents an opportunity to intervene to protect their daughter. Without parental involvement, girls—victims of rape—may continue to be victimized and may have one abortion after another.
Parental involvement laws have been shown to reduce minor girls’ pregnancy and abortion rates, as well as their rates of sexually transmitterd disease—outcomes that all Californians would agree are beneficial to young girls.
Finally, Sarah’s Law has explicit language to protect minor girls from being coerced to have abortions against their will—by anyone.
What if a minor girl has a medical emergency that necessitates an immediate abortion?
Sarah’s Law has an exception for medical emergencies. The doctor need not notify a parent if the delay in doing so would seriously endanger her life or health. As a practical matter, this situation almost never arises.
What about parents who don’t want to know about their daughter’s pregnancy or abortion? What if they think their minor daughter is old enough to make her own decisions?
The proponents of Sarah’s Law believe parents have not only a right but a responsibility to be involved in serious medical decisions involving their children. However, Sarah’s Law does allow parents to opt out of being notified by means of a signed document called a parental waiver. Each waiver is valid for one abortion. This waiver can be signed and provided to a daughter at any time, including before she is pregnant. The waiver provides parents with flexibility in terms of voluntarily giving up their right to be notified. For example, if a parent thinks his or her daughter is old enough at age 16, but not at age 14, to have an abortion without their knowledge, they can wait until she is 16 before giving her a waiver. If they think she should be able to have one or two abortions, but would be concerned about a third or fourth, they can provide her with only the number of waivers they believe appropriate.
The proponents of Sarah’s Law have done their best to accommodate the wishes of parents who believe, as the opposition slogan goes, “If she can’t come to me, I just want her to be safe.” Why can’t the opposition respect the wishes of the great majority of parents who do want to know and extend their care and love to their daughter before she undergoes a serious medical procedure?
What if a girl is too scared to tell her parents?
It would be the unusual girl who wouldn’t be nervous, even frightened, about telling her parents of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. She’d also be apprehensive about telling them about flunking out in school, wrecking a friend’s or the family’s car, or being arrested by authorities for possession of drugs.
But the fact that a girl is very reluctant to tell her parents something doesn’t justify a public policy that keeps parents in the dark about a serious and dangerous situation their young daughter is in. The most common reasons cited by teens for not telling a parent about their pregnancy are fear of disappointing their parents and causing them distress—not fear of physical abuse.
But abuse does happen. What if she reasonably believes that she will be beaten up if her parents find out? What if she is the victim of incest?
Sarah’s Law provides that, where a girl has been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused by either parent, the physician may instead notify another adult family member, such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle or sibling over the age of 21.
Sarah’s Law also provides a procedure to obtain a judicial waiver of the notification requirement. The judicial waiver process is fast, free, and confidential. A minor only needs to fill out a few forms to get a private hearing before a juvenile court judge, in the judge’s private chambers or private courtroom. She will have a guardian appointed for the hearing, and a court-paid attorney as well, if she wants one. If the judge finds that she is either sufficiently mature and well-informed to make the decision herself, or that notifying a parent is not in her best interest (because, for example, of threatened abuse), then the judge will grant a waiver allowing a doctor to perform an abortion without notifying a parent.
When considering the “hard cases” of physical or sexual abuse by a parent, one has to ask whether this girl would really be better off if she received a secret abortion and then returned home to that same situation. Rather than allowing that to happen, Sarah’s Law requires the physician who notifies another adult relative or the judge who grants a waiver to notify child protective services about evidence of abuse, so that the problem can be dealt with, not covered up. A minor who has been impregnated by her father needs help. A secret abortion will not solve her problems.
Is it reasonable to expect a minor to know how to go to court and get a judicial waiver?
Again, Sarah’s Law provides that another adult relative instead of a parent may be notified in case of abuse by a parent. In that situation, going to court is not necessary.
If for whatever reason the minor does not wish either a parent or any other adult family member to be notified, then when she goes to an abortion provider or clinic, the abortion provider will explain the waiver process to her. In other states with parental involvement laws, abortion providers and supporters have shown themselves more than willing to assist minors in getting waivers. Records in states with parental involvement laws show that an average of five to ten percent of minors receive judicial waivers. Obviously, minors can and do make use of the judicial waiver process and have for many years in states which have had parental involvement laws.
What is not reasonable is to hypothesize that, instead of notifying another adult family member or using the judicial waiver process, minors will resort to far more difficult and drastic means, such as going to Mexico for an abortion. Why, not to mention how, would a minor travel to Mexico, where she may or may not speak the language, locate someone willing to break Mexican law to perform an abortion, and come up with the money to pay for it, all without her parents’ knowing? Would this be easier and less intimidating than getting a waiver?
Will passage of Sarah’s Law delay critical medical care, or cause young girls to turn to self-induced or back-alley abortions?
The effects of implementing parental involvement laws are now very well known. In more than 30 states which have parental involvement laws in effect in some cases for many years, there is no evidence of any injury or death from an illegal abortions, parental abuse, or delayed medical care. In fact, there is no credible evidence that any minor has ever even resorted to an illegal abortion because of a parental involvement law. Given that these laws have been in effect in other states for years, even decades, affecting millions of teens, the absence of any evidence of harm to teens is powerful evidence that these dire predictions are completely off the mark. Parental notification helps teens; it doesn’t harm them.
Unfortunately, opponents of parental notification eagerly exploit the public’s fear of mythical “back-alley” abortions, counting on that fear to override common sense, sound medical practice and good public policy.
The opposition says that most minors already tell their parents before an abortion, and that those who don’t, fear abuse from their parents. Is that true?
The “studies” the opposition cites for these statements is actually one study, conducted fifteen years ago in Minnesota, based on minors responding to a survey, uncorroborated by any official data. (Henshaw and Kost, Parental involvement in minors’ abortion decisions. Family Planning Perspectives 1992; 24; 196-207, 213). That study found that only 45% of minors told a parent; only 55% of those 14 years old or younger reported doing so. The opposition fudges the numbers to include minors who report that a parent knew about their abortion, i.e., found about it some other way, to claim that most minors tell a parent. The author of this study himself testified that the claim that this study showed that most minors tell a parent was “entirely incorrect.”
Moreover, given that this study was done fifteen years ago, it is hardly reliable data about how many minors today tell their parents, much less about how many parents find out in some other way. For instance, the advent of cell phones and personal computers with Internet access make it far easier for young girls to keep things hidden from their parents today than in 1991, and to become victims of sexual predators.
The claim about minors fearing abuse from a parent if they tell is also not supported by the study. The most common reasons cited were not wanting to disappoint parents, not wanting parents to be angry with them, and not wanting parents to know they were having sex. Only 6% of minors cited fear of abuse. While these cases are regrettable, they are also exactly why Sarah’s Law allows for either alternative family member notification or a judicial bypass, to deal with the exceptional cases of family dysfunction.
Government can’t impose good family communication, say opponents of parental notification laws.
The only person that Sarah’s Law requires to communicate is the doctor, who must give 48 hour notice to a parent that he is about to perform an abortion on his/her minor daughter. The claim that Sarah’s Law imposes or “mandates” family communication is simply false!
On all other surgeries on minors the doctor must have the written permission of a parent (except in an emergency). Has one ever heard accusations that requiring a parent’s written permission for surgery “imposes good family communication”? No! Because it brings common sense safeguards to minors before—and after—surgery and is a trusted and sound public health policy.
On the other hand, California state government, through legislation and court decisions does impose its will on California families. The state has taken away the right of a parent, to be notified before any medical or surgical procedure, including an abortion, is performed on their minor daughter. Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers then collect public dollars from Medi-Cal for performing secret abortions on thousands of young girls every year.
But doesn't Sarah's Law allow the government to interfere in the relationship between the parents, the girl, and the doctor?
No. Sarah’s Law is not enforced by the government. It contains no criminal penalties against a doctor who does not comply with the law. Rather, it creates a cause of action, a right of parents or minors to sue a doctor if he unreasonably fails to comply with the law. The decision whether or not to sue if the doctor disregards the law is completely up to the parties involved, not the government.
Is Sarah’s Law an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade?
Sarah’s Law will do exactly what is written in the initiative, nothing more, nothing less. It will require a doctor to notify a parent 48 hours before performing an abortion on their minor daughter, with the exceptions described above. It adds legal and medical safeguards to protect her health and safety that don’t currently exist. Section (u) of Sarah’s Law specifically prohibits it from being construed to go any farther in restricting abortion than its precisely stated requirements related to parental notification.
Why do you say parental notification is “common sense”?
Parental notification and consent is required on all other surgeries on minors except abortion because medical practitioners know this provides a margin of safety for minor patients. For Planned Parenthood to claim that not notifying a parent enhances “teen safety” doesn’t make sense. Supporting on Sarah’s Law is simply common sense and a real step forward in teen safety.