Dr. Mitchell H. Katz is the Director of Health for the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH).
In her recent column Debra Saunders says that those of us who oppose Proposition 85 “argue that teenagers will tell good parents…if they are pregnant. But if pregnant teenagers don’t talk to their parents, it probably is for a good reason.”
While Ms. Saunders is correct in this narrow observation, the Chronicle’s editorial board better understood the entire issue and recommended its readers reject Prop 85.
No law, including Prop 85, can create good family communication. Prop 85 has the added disadvantage that it will put teens in real danger. Teens “not talking to their parents for good reason” is more than just a “nifty-sounding sentence,” as Ms Saunders describes it… it’s reality. The good news is that the majority of teens already notify a parent, other family member or member of the clergy. The misfortunate minority who do not involve a parent often cite reasons such as, “fear of physical harm, being kicked out of the house, or other abuse.”
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As for Ms. Saunders’ argument that requiring parental notification before abortion can help reduce teen pregnancy, a recent New York Times study debunks this myth. Their comparison of parental notification and consent laws in other states found that they failed to reduce significantly the number of minors seeking abortions. In states with notification laws, teens often delayed medical care and counseling into the 2nd trimester of their pregnancies or crossed borders to avoid restrictions. “Common-sense” assumptions can’t be allowed to take the place of research when it comes to medical policy affecting the health of our teens.
Misguided notification laws won’t reduce teen pregnancy, but good family communication combined with strong prevention policies, medically accurate sex education and access to contraception can. In California the teen pregnancy rate has dropped 46% over the past decade thanks to prevention focused methods like these. We don’t need a law that will just put our most vulnerable teens in danger.
Parents rightfully want to be involved with their teens, but above all else they want them to be safe. As a doctor, I counsel teens to talk to their parents when facing tough decisions, but I also know that not all teens are lucky enough to have a parent they can turn to. Going before a judge is just not a realistic option. The backers of 85 are playing on the fears of responsible parents. Teen safety should be the basis of medical policy, not politics.
I urge you to join me, along with the California Nurse’s Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Medical Association, the California Teachers Association, Planned Parenthood and hundreds of other agencies who work together to help teens stay healthy and grow into healthy adults. Vote No on Proposition 85 this November.