Coalition Sues to Repeal Teen Abortion Law

Times Staff Writer

A coalition of medical and health care groups filed suit Monday to strike down the new California law requiring unmarried minors to obtain consent of a parent or judge before they get an abortion.

The law violates the state constitutional right to privacy and should be prevented from going into effect as scheduled Jan. 1, attorneys for the California Medical Assn., the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations said in an action in Superior Court here.

The groups contend that the law would cause many teen-agers, fearing parental reprisal, to risk their health by delaying abortion or trying to self-induce abortions. The judicial system will prove confusing and intimidating to minors--and despite the law's provisions for confidentiality, their identities may become known, particularly in small communities, they said.

"Contrary to what its supporters argue, the law will not open up lines of communication between a pregnant teen-ager and her parents," CMA President Dr. Frederick Armstrong said in a statement.

"Where there is trust and confidence between parents and teen-agers, there is already communication. If there is not, an unwanted pregnancy is a particularly poor way to begin," he said.

Approval of One Parent

Under the law, an unwed girl under 18 must get the approval of one parent or her guardian for an abortion. As an alternative, she may seek the permission of a juvenile court judge. In medical emergencies, no consent is required.

The law makes it a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and jail up to 30 days to knowingly perform an abortion on an unmarried minor who has not obtained parental or court approval.

The most recent available data shows that about 30,000 abortions are performed annually on girls under 18 in California. The law presently requires only that pregnant minors give "informed consent" for an abortion in consultation with doctors.

Across the country, 10 states have enacted laws requiring parental or court notification, but five of those laws have been blocked by court orders. Thirteen states, including California, have approved statutes mandating parental or court approval. Courts in four of those 13 states have suspended the laws, according to the plaintiffs in the suit.

The California measure was signed into law last September by Gov. George Deukmejian after years of effort by anti-abortion groups to secure its passage. Supporters said the law would strengthen family unity and noted that parental consent is required for most other operations on minors.

Backers of the law predicted Monday that it would be upheld, pointing out that legislators had sought to avoid some of the pitfalls that led courts to strike down consent or notification laws in other states. For example, laws requiring approval by both parents have been invalidated elsewhere.

"This law was drawn very carefully with the hope it would survive any constitutional test," said Art Croney, a spokesman for the Committee on Moral Concerns, an 8,000-member conservative citizens group based in Sacramento. "We're confident it will be upheld ultimately by both the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court."

The federal high court in 1983 upheld a Missouri law requiring parental consent and is reviewing an Illinois statute mandating parental notification. A decision is expected by next summer.

The attorneys opposing the new California law stressed Monday that their action was based on state constitutional provisions, which would permit California courts to strike down the law on state grounds even if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that such laws are permissible under the federal Constitution.

"The state can provide additional constitutional rights," said Linda E. Shostak, a cooperating attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. "That's what the people of California did when they enacted (in 1972) the right-to-privacy provisions of the state Constitution."

The suit argues that the new law violates a minor's "fundamental right of privacy" in determining whether to bear children and that it impermissibly favors childbirth over abortion by requiring consent from a parent or the court.

The new law, the suit says, conflicts with the state Supreme Court's 1981 ruling that struck down legislative restrictions on state-funded Medi-Cal abortions for low-income women as a violation of the right to privacy.

The court at that time was dominated by liberals and led by former Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird. Now, since the November, 1986, defeat of Bird and two other justices, the seven-member court includes five appointees of Deukmejian and is led by Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas.

The plaintiffs asked the Superior Court to enter a preliminary injunction prohibiting state and local prosecutors from enforcing the law and then to declare the statute unconstitutional. A hearing is tentatively set for Dec. 21.

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