‘Sarah’s Law’ would not have aided ‘Sarah’

Times Staff Writer

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.

Proponents of the measure recently submitted an argument for the state voter guide saying the death of “Sarah” might have been prevented but her parents were not told she had had an abortion and so did not know the reason for her failing health. The proposal, Proposition 4, will appear on California’s statewide ballot in November.

In court papers filed in her home state of Texas after her death, the man with whom she lived declared himself her common-law husband in an effort to secure custody of the child. Texas recognizes common-law marriage and does not view a married 15-year-old as a minor, according to an attorney for Planned Parenthood.


A lawsuit co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood Affiliates and filed Friday in Sacramento County Superior Court asks the secretary of state to remove the girl’s story and other information it deemed misleading, including any reference to “Sarah’s Law,” from the material submitted for the official voter guide.

“If you can’t believe the Sarah story, there’s a lot in the ballot argument you can’t believe,” said Ana Sandoval, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood and the campaign against Proposition 4.

Backers of the initiative said they learned the details after submitting the ballot argument last month and would review the lawsuit before deciding whether to amend the language for the voter guide.

“However, she was still 15 and was not equipped to make medical decisions on her own, whether she was living with the father of her child or not,” said Erica Little, a spokeswoman for the campaign supporting the proposition.

She confirmed that “Sarah” was Jammie Garcia Yanez-Villegas, who died in Texas in 1994. The name Sarah was used to protect her identity.

“We will modify the way we present Sarah to be accurate with the information,” Little said. “But we don’t think the use of her story is marred.”


Planned Parenthood argues that the Sarah story should be dropped from the voter pamphlet because a parental notification law would not have applied in her case.

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.

Supporters of the measure, including Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, signed a ballot argument that cites “Sarah’s” death as an example of why the law is needed.

“Had someone in her family known about the abortion, Sarah’s life could have been saved,” the supporting argument reads.

Sarah’s story was challenged in the rebuttal argument filed for the voter’s guide by a group that included Kathy Kneer, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

“Nothing in Prop. 4 would have prevented her tragic death,” the rebuttal says.