A decades-long effort to require California minors seeking abortions to tell their parents has qualified for the ballot, the first issue to be assured a place in a special election that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger might call for this fall.
The measure would be an anomaly on a ballot likely to be dominated by questions about how to alter the balance of political power in the Capitol. Some analysts said it could draw more voters inclined to support Schwarzenegger’s agenda, which includes stripping lawmakers of the ability to draw their own districts, placing new curbs on state spending and delaying tenure for teachers.
“If it touches a chord, and I think it might, it might provide for Gov. Schwarzenegger a little extra boost, a nudge,” said Bill Whalen, a former aide to Gov. Pete Wilson now at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Public opinion polls show that the Parents’ Right to Know and Child Protection Initiative is an odds-on favorite to pass, said Republican and Democratic strategists alike. If it does, California would join 33 other states that require some kind of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion.
The initiative would prevent minors from having an abortion until 48 hours after a doctor informed their parents or legal guardians in writing. Minors would not need parents’ permission to terminate a pregnancy, as they do in 19 other states, including Arizona. California’s two other neighbors, Nevada and Oregon, do not have parental involvement laws.
Parents who had been told of the procedure could waive the notification delay, which the initiative terms a “reflection period.” Doctors could also waive the notification if they deemed the abortion a medical emergency.
Minors afraid to seek parental consent could ask a juvenile court judge to waive the notification.
The issue of parental involvement has been batted around in the Legislature and the initiative process since the 1970s in California, and often blocked or delayed in the courts.
In 1987, lawmakers agreed to require girls younger than 18 to obtain permission from their parents. The California Supreme Court upheld the law in 1996.
But the following year, after two justices retired, the court took the unusual step of reconsidering its vote and struck the law down as a violation of privacy rights in the state Constitution. Ten other states have passed laws that have never been enforced because of court enjoiners, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that does research on reproductive rights.
There have been several attempts to place a parental involvement law on California’s ballot, but none until the most recent were backed up by money and a concerted effort, said Albin Rhomberg, a spokesman for the latest campaign.
Life on the Ballot, the campaign committee for the measure, spent $1.3 million to collect more than 1 million signatures, 682,131 of which the California secretary of state’s office estimated were valid.
The campaign was largely funded through big donations from Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza; Don Sebastiani, a Sonoma vintner; and James Holman, the publisher of a San Diego alternative newspaper, the Reader. Holman alone has given or loaned the effort $1.3 million, according to records filed with the state.
The governor has endorsed the idea of parental notification but has not taken a position on the measure.
Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a volunteer group that favors parental notification, said he believed the measure would draw strong support beyond that of Republicans. And he said it would appeal to many union members likely to be drawn to a special election by a proposal that would prohibit public labor unions from using a member’s dues for political contributions unless the member consented.
“When you look at the polling data, it’s working-class and middle-class parents who are the strongest supporters for parental involvement,” he said. “I think it’s one of those issues that people want to vote on. I think it will help turnout, although I suspect there will be a pretty high turnout anyway.”
David Townsend, a Democratic consultant, agreed that the proposal has broad support but doubted it would do much to sway the outcome on other measures.
“Social conservatives already vote,” he said. But, he said, “there aren’t enough of them to do much.”
Mary-Jane Wagle, the chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, said reproductive rights advocates would fight hard against the measure.
“The dangerous, misleading thing about this ballot initiative is that it looks like it helps parents to know what’s happening with their kids,” she said. “It puts a barrier between teens and their access to safe, good medical care. I have three daughters, and the last thing I want is for the government to force them to talk to me if they don’t feel they can. I’m afraid that it would make them do something that would be dangerous for them.”
The notification measure is not the only initiative that could be strongly contested.
Two proposals are intended to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for low- and moderate-income Californians. One is backed by the pharmaceutical industry, which has sued to try to block the other, which is a more expansive measure written by a coalition of consumer groups and unions aligned with Democrats.
The industry lost the first stage of its legal skirmish Monday, when a Superior Court judge in Sacramento declined to speed up the normal time frame for deciding whether to grant the industry’s request to block county election officials from counting and validating the signatures on the Democratic measure.
Elections officials expect to know by next month whether the various measures qualify for the ballot. If Schwarzenegger wants to call a special election for Nov. 8 -- the date that would be the most workable for elections officials -- he will need to do so by mid-June.
If Schwarzenegger does not call a special election, the parental notification measure would appear on the next scheduled ballot, in June 2006.