October 23, 2008
Abortion notification Prop. 4 draws opposition
"Mishnah Ohalot 7:6 clearly states that a woman whose life is in danger is obligated to choose an abortion because the fetus is not yet considered to be a human"
In February 1994, a 15-year-old girl from Texas named Sarah walked into an abortion clinic. The procedure the young woman had hoped would help solve her problems went drastically wrong, and Sarah walked out of the doctor's office with a torn cervix and a serious infection. She would wind up in an intensive-care unit only a few days later, ultimately dying.|
This is the way proponents of "Sarah's Law" or Proposition 4 tell it, arguing that parental notification would have ensured Sarah faster, better medical care and may even have saved her life.
Proposition 4 on the Nov. 4 California ballot would require girls under the age of 18 to gain parental permission for an abortion, though it allows for a few key exemptions. Judges could offer waivers to minors who offer evidence of familial abuse or of having reached an adequate maturity level. The requirement for parental notification could also be waived in cases where the life or health of the minor is immediately threatened.
Thirty-five states have already adopted some form of a parental law in connection to abortion, according to the Bixby Center for Global Reproduction at UC San Francisco. But the proposition's success is not assured here. Twice before, in 2005 and 2006, Californians have voted down measures similar to this year's, which is officially called "Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor's Pregnancy."
Proposition 4 comes at a time when studies indicate that adolescent pregnancy rates are significantly lower than when Roe v. Wade first took effect in 1973, especially in California. According to a study released in September by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization specializing in reproductive health, abortion rates among teens have fallen from 33 percent in 1974 to 17 percent in 2004, overall. According to the Bixby Center, California's teen birth rate is below the national average. Studies also show Proposition 4 would likely have its greatest impact on poor minority children.
According to Cathy Unger, chair of Planned Parenthood's Advocacy Project, major financial support for Proposition 4 comes from Jim Holman, a devout Catholic and owner of the San Diego Weekly Reader, along with winemaker Don Sebastiani. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has also publicly stated that he fully supports the measure.
The California Medical Association, however, opposes the proposed measure. If passed, doctors would be fined if parents were not appropriately notified.
Many members of the Jewish community have also come out in strong opposition to Proposition 4.
Hillary Selvin, executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles Section, argues that the proposition is attempting to "mandate that a family communicate, even when a family cannot communicate."
Selvin said evidence suggests that 70 percent of teens already go to their parents when considering an abortion, but that in instances of abuse or some other exceptional family circumstances, some simply cannot. Proposition 4, she argues, unfairly targets teens who are already vulnerable.
Selvin also fears that the proposed legislation is "simply setting the groundwork for [the reversal] of Roe v. Wade."
"This is not about abortion. This is about a woman's right to choose," Selvin said. "You don't take away rights in a constitution. That's where you safeguard rights."
In addition, Selvin doesn't believe the measure is an effective one, noting that teens could start traveling out of state or to Mexico for abortions or attempt to illegally and unsafely obtain one within the state.
The Union for Reform Judaism also is against Proposition 4 and supports "minors' access to reproductive health services," said Linda Bertenthal, regional executive director.
Bertenthal said Mishnah Ohalot 7:6 clearly states that a woman whose life is in danger is obligated to choose an abortion because the fetus is not yet considered to be a human.
However, Bertenthal also worries about religious law dictating American law.
"Every woman," she said, "needs to look at her own religious tradition."
Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah, a Conservative synagogue in Woodland Hills, also opposes Proposition 4.
"I get concerned when you overly legislate something, because I think life has nuances," he said.
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater of the Conservative congregation Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center is against the measure because the Conservative reading of Jewish law, he said, allows for abortion when a woman's physical or mental health is threatened.
Although Grater said the Torah doesn't speak directly on the issue of abortion, he said many have pointed to Exodus 21:22 to substantiate the claim that Jewish tradition doesn't consider a fetus to be of equal value to that of a human. In the Exodus passage, an accidental miscarriage is said to be punishable not by death -- as murder would -- but through fines.
Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Conservative Valley Beth Shalom said Jewish tradition is open to a wide variety of interpretation and that he has witnessed those in the Orthodox community interpret the reproductive choices Jewish women are said to have in very narrow terms. But even staunch pro-life advocates in the Orthodox community don't necessarily want to see their beliefs legislated, Feinstein said.
Rabbi Elazar Muskin of the Orthodox Young Israel of Century City concurred that abortion is "permitted in very specific cases," although the Orthodox Union itself declined to comment on the measure.
Despite previous defeats and Jewish opposition to the measure, National Council of Jewish Women's Selvin said one thing is for sure: A new defeat of Proposition 4, if it happens, would not likely to come as a landslide.
"I think it's going to be close," she said.
Sarah's Law: http://www.yeson4.net/
Planned Parenthood: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/
California Medical Association: http://www.cmanet.org/
National Council of Jewish Women: http://www.ncjwla.org/