Proponents of a twice- failed state proposition requiring parental notification for teens seeking abortions hope to win this year with a strong Latino vote.
“If there’s a shift going on, it’s coming from the Latino voters,” pollster Mark DiCamillo
told the San Jose Mercury News. “Because this is a presidential election, Latino voters
will constitute a larger proportion of the turnout than was true two years ago.”
Well aware of this, both sides are reaching out to win the Latino vote on Proposition 4, which
would make California the 36th state to require parental notification before a minor could
obtain an abortion.
In a YouTube video, Mexican heartthrob Eduardo Verastegui voices his support in
Spanish for Propositon 4, pointing out that in California girls under 18 need parental
permission to go to a tanning salon, pierce their ears, and get an aspirin from the school
nurse, yet can get an abortion without anyone in their family knowing. On Facebook,
“No a la Proposición 4” ads pop up with the text “The health and safety of thousands of
young Latinas depends on you.”
Californians voted down similar ballot initiatives in 2005 and 2006, but a California Field
poll indicates a tight race this year with 49 percent of likely voters supporting Proposition
4, 41 percent opposed, and 10 percent undecided. Latinos poll overwhelmingly in favor
of the proposition, 62 percent to 31 percent.
Dolores Meehan, a volunteer spokesperson for the Yes on 4 Campaign and a graduate
student in philosophy, said the proposition is about family communication, adding that
Latinos are supportive because they are “an extremely family oriented community.” She
said the emphasis on Latino outreach could lead to a triumph this time around, an effort helped by an endorsement from the California Catholic Conference.
Yet, Destiny Lopez, who leads statewide outreach to Latinas from
her Oakland-based organization, Access, said the assumption that Latinos are too
traditional and religious to vote against the measure is inaccurate. In past years, last
minute voter education efforts and phone banks to Latinas that highlighted teen safety helped
defeat the proposition. She said she is confident that will happen again this year.
Lopez said enthusiasm for the proposition diminishes when Latino voters
learn that the proposed law allows teenagers to notify someone in the family other than their parents only after triggering a child abuse investigation of their parents.
“When you think about our undocumented communities, limited English communities,
that is putting them in a difficult situation,” said Lopez about the possible law
enforcement involvement that could ensue under Proposition 4.
Neither campaigns have been particularly visible in the Mission. At St. Anthony’s
church on Cesar Chavez, Pastor Gabriel Flores did receive a box of Spanish brochures
from Yes on 4’s San Diego headquarters, but said he has no plans to give a sermon on the
topic to his largely non-citizen parish.
But local health experts recognize that the Mission, which between 2003 and 2005 had a
teen birth rate of 39.4 cases per 1000 female teens that was almost double the city’s
average of 20.5 per 1000, will be deeply impacted by the new law.
While San Francisco teen pregnancy rates have been declining steadily in recent years,
that decrease has been lowest in Latina teens, said public health expert, Alexandra
Minnis. From 2001 to 2004 Minnis helped lead a University of California San Francisco
555-subject study that evaluated the sexual health of a cross section of mostly Latino
youth in the Mission. A quarter of sexually active young women involved became
pregnant over the course of the study. Half of them opted to abort.
Yet if Proposition 4 were to pass, Minnis said, “My immediate thought is that those who
would like to have an abortion would be less likely to seek one.”
Dr. Seth Ammerman said he performs at least one pregnancy test every Monday, the day
he runs a Teen Clinic at the Mission Neighborhood Health Center.
Ammerman said the Mission teens who come to the Teen Clinic for sexual health, mental
health, and substance abuse treatment do so because the Clinic keeps those services
confidential in accordance with California’s minor consent law.
Proposition 4 would roll back a portion of those laws to strip the confidentiality of
“The reality is that minors just wont come in,” he said, noting that the proposed law
would deteriorate teen’s trust in the system for services even beyond abortion.
Confidentiality is so important to students at Balboa High School that last year a group of
peer health educators pushed forward an initiative to educate all San Francisco high
school students about minor consent laws.
Shirley Duong, a 16-year old member of the Balboa Teen Health Center Advisory Board,
said confidential care is critical because it allows “teenagers to just go and get what they
need without fear of judgment from their families.”
She said that under the proposed law, teens who know their parents disapprove of
abortion would be in a tough spot. “If they know their parents are going to be notified,
then most likely they are not going to seek professional help and will seek other ways,”
Mission High School peer health educator, Manuel Arce, 15, cited a maxim in his native
Spanish to explain how a pregnant teen with unsupportive parents might feel under
Entre la espada y la pared. Between a sword and a wall.