Proposition 73: Close!

Katie Short

I know, I know. Close only counts in horseshoes.

But the vote on Proposition 73, California’s parental notification initiative, was close, particularly compared to the outcome for the other seven initiatives on the same special election ballot—all of which were also defeated. The margin for Prop 73 was 5.6%. The next closest was 7%, then 10%, 17%, and then 20% or more. The voters were in a negative mood, and Prop 73 was submerged in an undertow created by outside forces and conditions that weren’t even on the horizon when the proponents launched the project in 2004.

So, as first-place loser, what do we have to show for our efforts? A lot:

One: Many, many more people now know that parental notification is not required for minors to have an abortion in California.

Anyone who participated in any form of public outreach on Prop 73 can tell stories of people being shocked, even incredulous, when informed that a young girl could get an abortion without her parents’ knowing. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands who learned the truth from newspapers, radio, and television. People were outraged when they found out! (In fact, there is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that some people who voted “no” thought they were casting a vote against minors being able to get secret abortions.) School policies allowing minors to leave campus secretly for “confidential medical services” are once again in the spotlight, and parents are more aware of how their rights have been taken from them.

Two: Prop 73 dragged into the light the abortion industry’s complicity in shielding sexual predators, both inside and outside the clinics.

For the first time the public heard about how abortion clinics violate the mandated reporting laws by failing to report obvious cases of statutory rape and sexual abuse of minors by older men. People heard the shocking statistics about the percentage of young teens impregnated by older men, and how secret abortions enable sexual predators to continue their crimes.

Also, the media finally began paying some attention to the scandal of shady abortion practitioners preying on vulnerable women. For example, pro-lifers had been trying for years to get the state medical board to revoke the license of Laurence Reich, abortionist and “medical director” of a chain of abortion mills in Southern California. Reich had several convictions for sexually abusing his patients, most recently in 2002, but the board took no action. Then Reich was singled out in a widely-distributed pro-73 flyer as an example of the dangers that await young girls seeking secret abortions, and things started happening. On October 29, the Los Angeles Daily News ran an article about Reich’s record and the delay in disciplining him. The story was picked up by CNN, which aired its own report on December 5. Two weeks later, Senator Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) sent a letter to the board, calling for Reich’s immediate suspension.

Three: Planned Parenthood was forced to show itself as an advocate not of “women’s health” but of unrestricted abortion on demand.

By far, the biggest donor to the “no on 73” campaign was Planned Parenthood. The nine California affiliates and the statewide political organization gave an average of over quarter of million dollars each to the campaign, with several giving in excess of half a million dollars. Planned Parenthood affiliates in New Jersey, Illinois, and Washington also contributed substantial amounts. (The out-of-state contributions came not from any of the thirty-five states that have parental involvement laws in effect, but from the minority which have no such laws or whose laws are enjoined. Apparently they were alarmed at the prospect of a successful California campaign emboldening the pro-lifers in their own states.) Although Planned Parenthood put on a ventriloquist act, pretending to speak on behalf of parents who “just want my daughter to be safe,” it was clear that there were very large business interests at stake in defeating Prop 73.

Four: Planned Parenthood’s ideology was exposed not just by its money, but by its rhetoric.

We knew going into the campaign that many people who call themselves “pro-choice” nonetheless support parental notification as a reasonable measure promoting parental responsibility and enabling parents to advise and protect their daughters. What became clear during the course of the campaign was where the major fault line lies in the “pro-choice” side. It lies between those who are, at a minimum, troubled by the idea of young girls engaging in sexual activity, and those who don’t have a problem with it at all. Planned Parenthood placed itself firmly in the latter camp. Two examples stick in my mind:

At one debate I participated in, a student asked the PP representative whether parental notification might not prevent the problems she had seen among some of her friends who had two, three, or more abortions by the time they were eighteen. The PP representative declared in resounding tones: “The solution to repeat abortions is sex education and contraception!” Nothing about abstinence. No concern for the spiritual or emotional well-being of young girls in sexual relationships—just sex education and contraception.

Another time I was on a radio program debating Kathy Kneer, CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. Accompanying Kneer was a mother-with-teen-age-daughter, whose role was to repeat PP’s mantra, “If she can’t come to me, I just want her to be safe.” She recited her lines well, and then the host asked about their involvement with PP. The fifteen-year-old daughter said that she was a volunteer “teen sex educator” at Planned Parenthood, where she counseled her peers about sexual issues. When I heard that, I decided I wouldn’t even try to say another word. The absurdity was too rich to comment on. Parents everywhere would undoubtedly sleep more soundly knowing that, though their young daughter could have an abortion without their knowing, she was receiving the wise counsel of an experienced fifteen-year-old peer.

To sum up, as the proponent of one of the other losing initiatives said after the election: “There is no more economical way to ensure a public debate about an issue in California than to place it on the ballot.” For the first time in decades, we had a public debate in California about abortion. Abortion and abortion providers were in the spotlight, and they didn’t like it.

I can’t deny feeling depressed as I watched Prop 73 go down to defeat, but it was not the same feeling one gets when a bad supreme court decision comes down. (Believe me, I know that feeling well.) Then one feels truly helpless; there is nowhere else to turn, nothing more one can do or say. Here, faced with only an electoral defeat, we can and will try again. Proposition 73 was the beginning, not the end of the campaign for parental notification in California.