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Dueling Icons: Pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates battle it out in the media and at the polls in November.

Gimme Some Protection

Local high school students sound off about Prop. 73

By Sarah Phelan

'I wouldn't want to have someone take my daughter to a hospital for an abortion or something and not tell me. I would kill him if they do that."

Thus spake Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in an interview with the Sacramento Bee about why he has endorsed Prop. 73. This is the initiative on the fall ballot that seeks to amend the California Constitution to prohibit abortion for unemancipated minors until 48 hours after a physician notifies their parent/legal guardian--except in medical emergencies or with a parental waiver.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say "thus misspake Schwarzenegger," since the increasingly embattled governor soon and famously clarified that of course he wouldn't actually "kill" anyone.

As Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman Rob Stutzman explained in the San Francisco Chronicle three days after the "kill" blunder, the governor supports Prop. 73 because "just as the law involves parents in all other medical decisions with a child, he doesn't believe abortion should be any different."

Still, the sentiment behind Schwarzenegger's original words rings too true for those teenagers who fear that Prop. 73--far from protecting them, as proponents of the initiative claim--will in fact seriously threaten their health and safety.

Take Maria Cardenas, a 17-year-old student at Star Community High School, who favors glitter-studded flip-flops, silver loop earrings and body piercing. Cardenas say that when she read what Arnie initially said, she wondered if his daughter was afterward able to tell him, "Hey, what you said was intimidating and would make me not want to tell you even more."

"Isn't the idea supposed to be that you can trust and confide in your parents?" says Cardenas, whose not yet 18-year-old sister is pregnant and has decided to have her baby--a decision her mother supports.

High School Confidential

"I have a lot of friends who have had abortions and they had the choice to keep it confidential," says Cardenas, who recently interviewed 20 classmates about Prop. 73.

Cardenas' admittedly informal poll reveals that some students believe Prop. 73 could help teens. They argue that Prop. 73 could lead to fewer teen abortions, by making minors so afraid that their parents would find out that they'd have less sex or use more protection.

But a far greater number believe it would lead to more backstreet abortions and discourage teenage girls from seeking prompt medical attention. They argue that, under Prop. 73, parents would effectively be informed that their teenage daughters had not only been sexually active, but had also failed to use protection--twin facts that could trigger dangerous situations at home.

Says Cardenas, "Most teenagers are sexually active--and don't want the government to force them into a relationship with their parents."

She also questions whether parents would really welcome such interference.

"Would parents rather have the government tell them their daughter was pregnant? I think they'd be ashamed," she says.

As one interviewee put it, "Teens will have sex anyways, but the people who this initiative most affects aren't even allowed to vote."

Cardenas points out that, while many teens are sexually active, their parents may not know, or may be in denial or simply think it's wrong to have premarital sex.

It's worth noting that Prop. 73 doesn't technically restrict a minor's right to an abortion--and it does permit minors to obtain a parental notice waiver, based on "clear, convincing evidence of the minor's maturity and best interests."

But as Cardenas points out, aside from the bureaucratic hassle that petitioning a juvenile court to get such an order would entail in cases of incest, such requests could lead to the parent being reported to child protective services and ultimately jailed--outcomes a teen may not be willing to face.

Prop. 73 proponents counter that secret abortions on minors are rarely reported to Child Protection Services--even though these pregnancies may be evidence of statutory rape and sexual abuse. All of which leaves the "Yes on Prop. 73" faction concluding that the failure to report minors' abortions leaves teenage girls vulnerable to more sexual abuse, rapes, pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases.

Spinning the Unborn

One thing Prop. 73's passage would do is represent a victory for the antiabortion crowd by establishing in state law the definition of life as beginning at conception.

Cardenas recalls that when she first read the language of the initiative, which defines abortion as the "use of any means to terminate a pregnancy that causes the death of the unborn child, a child conceived and not yet born," she ranted for hours.

"I was tripping. How could this be possible that they would use such language? I mean, how can you kill something that's not yet alive?" she says.

Meanwhile, proponents are billing Prop. 73 as "the parents' right to know and the child protection initiative." Cardenas counters that if parents really want to help their teens, "They should educate their teens on the consequences of being sexually active."

Cardenas believes the funds that three men--San Diego Reader publisher James Holman, former owner of the Domino's Pizza chain Tom Managhan and winery owner Don Sebastiani--bankrolled to get Prop. 73 on the ballot would have been better spent on sex education. "My mother tells me, 'If you do have sex, use condoms. And if you do get pregnant, tell me," says Cardenas, adding that if she was pregnant and wanted an abortion, her mother would be supportive. "But she might also ask, "Have you thought about adoption?"

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From the October 26-November 2, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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