The religious right is at it again, with another ballot measure intended to divide Californians and prevent women from making their own choices about their own bodies and lives. This time it is Proposition 4 — “Sarah’s Law” — the old “parental notification” initiative that bans the termination of a pregnancy in a minor unless their parents are notified 48 hours ahead of time.
The same initiative has been rejected by California voters twice for good reason. Yes, this is the third time in three years. So the state — We, the People, the taxpayers — runs the expense of another ballot initiative.
So this time they have named the parental notification initiative “Sarah’s Law” after Sarah of the Bible — a fictitious name being used for a real woman who died in Texas in 1994 from an infection caused by a torn cervix. Prop 4 proponents claim that “Sarah” would have been saved if Prop 4 had been in effect there. Now it turns out that Prop 4 would not have applied. So this new rationale for the previously-rejected law — that Prop 4 would save the lives of minors, entirely based on one 1994 case — is false. Obviously helping young women is not the point of this law. Below I will talk about how this will actually endanger their health and lives.
First, though, an Aug. 2 LA Times story explains: ‘Sarah’s Law’ would not have applied to ‘Sarah,’ acknowledge backers of the abortion-notification measure,
Backers of a ballot measure that would require parents to be notified before an abortion is performed on a minor acknowledged Friday that the 15-year-old on which “Sarah’s Law” is based had a child and was in a common-law marriage before she died of complications from an abortion in 1994.
[. . .] Proposition 4 would amend the California constitution to prohibit abortion for unemancipated minors until 48 hours after a physician notifies the minor’s parent or legal guardian. State voters have twice rejected similar measures.
At first glance it might seem like a good idea to require minors to notify parents before they can terminate a pregnancy. Unfortunately the reality of people’s lives does not always match up with the ideal families of 1960s TV shows. There are very serious reasons that a young woman might not want to tell parents about a pregnancy. These can involve abuse, incest and fear. In these cases requiring parental notification can bring about serious consequences. It can also cause the young woman to turn to unsafe alternatives.
There can even be very bad reasons where the young woman really should tell the parents. But a law like this also endangers a foolish, unwise young woman’s health because it can cause her to to to an illegal, unlicensed, unsafe practitioner, or even try something herself. People do not always do the best and wisest thing. Foolish and unwise young people even more so.
History and experience have taught society that having a safe and legal place to turn for help is the best way to protect our young women. When a young woman is pregnant and does not want to be and there are no safe procedures available she might out of desperation turn to unsafe alternatives. When pregnancy termination was illegal it didn’t mean women did not terminate pregnancies, it meant they did so at very high risk to their health. Terrible consequences were not uncommon. This is why the right’s justification for Sarah’s Law, and the false story behind it, is such an abomination. They are trying to take away these safe procedures with false stories that this will protect young women. It is safe and legal procedures that protect women who decide to choose to terminate a pregnancy.