Editorial: Keeping parents in the picture

Among the most troubling issues on this year’s California ballot is Proposition 85, which would require teenaged girls to notify their parents if they decide to get abortions. To upholders of family values, the issue would seem a no-brainer: Of course parents should be notified.

We agree, though we’re mindful of the opponents’ arguments. If a decent society is to make abortions “safe and rare,” as Bill Clinton used to say, then female adolescents should not be forced to seek the fetus-destroying procedure in some dark and unsanitary place, perhaps even performedby an unpracticed abortionist.

That is the sobering scenario the opponents envision if an impregnated girl, too fearful to face her parents, some of them abusive parents, seeks a secret path to the procedure. And, true enough, though law inescapably is rooted in morality, sometimes the moralists use the law in ways that push disapproved behavior into the subterranean marketplace. That sequence you will recognize as the great lesson of Prohibition.

So the opponents’ worries might have some merit. It’s easy, however, to imagine just such tragic circumstances in isolated cases, but not so easy to imagine widespread, underground lawbreaking. The Prohibition analogy breaks down if, by strengthening the family structure, the law emphasizes the “rare” side of the equation.

Overwhelmingly, most parents are not the crazed abusers introduced into this debate by the opponents. In fact, there is no better place to instill careful behavior than the family. True, the family has widely mutated into something apart from what the sociologists have called the “nuclear family,” i.e., headed by a father and a mother, but there is no reason public policy should further erode society’s basic civilizing unit.

Loving parents are far better equipped than a morally indifferent class of guidance counselors and gynecologists who wish to insinuate themselves into the shaping of young women’s lives. Assuming parental prerogatives, supplanting traditional virtues with moral neutrality — such objectives unmistakably motivate many of the opponents. Talk about dark alleys.

Prop. 85, quite responsibly, removes the opponents’ principal objection by providing, in extreme cases, for abused minors to petition a juvenile court. Indeed, the opponents haven’t considered the consequences of removing moral instruction from the categories of parental responsibility. Some parents, if not tethered to their customary role as moral teachers, could become abusive when they were not before.

Unlike state institutions, pro-choice nonprofits and ready physicians, parents have a stake in their daughters’ decisions that should be encouraged if abortions are to be made “safe and rare.” Moreover, the law has a stake in its own integrity. If it’s illegal to give a flu shot to a minor without parental consent, it’s profoundly illogical to discourage parental notification when considering the grave issue of abortion.

Yes on Prop. 85.

Part of the San Francisco Examiner's 2006 Election Coverage.

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