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Asian MDs Say Prop. 4 Puts Minors in Peril

New America Media, News Report, Rene P. Ciria-Cruz Posted: Oct 24, 2008

Asian American doctors and community leaders warn that legally requiring pregnant teens to notify their parents before seeking an abortion would put minors' health and life in serious danger.

Their warning comes as a recent Field poll shows Asian voters supporting by 48 to 32 percent Proposition 4, which would amend the state Constitution to require the parental notification.

If a pregnant teenager doesn't want to notify her parents, Prop. 4 would require her to go before a juvenile court judge to prove she is mature enough to choose an abortion on her own.

If she chooses to notify a relative other than a parent, she must submit a detailed accusation of chronic parental mistreatment, which a doctor must immediately send to the police. The doctor must also inform the parents of the police involvement.

"Passage of Prop. 4 could force minors to seek desperate measures such as illegal abortion methods or going to another country," says Dr. Sophia Yen of Stanford's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. "Infection or death is a real danger. (The proposition) is impractical the government can't mandate good family communication," Dr. Yen adds.

Yen accuses proponents of Prop. 4 of ignoring the wellbeing of pregnant minors. "If they really cared about teens and adolescents they would focus more on providing accurate sex and health education," she says.

To expect a child to reveal intimate details of her pregnancy to a judge, a complete stranger, in an official court proceeding, is also unrealistic, states Eveline Shen, executive director of Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice. "It's intimidating."

Therefore, the risk of pregnant teens "going across the border to Tijuana" or trying to abort pregnancies using dangerous methods is very real, says Dr. Ricky Choi, a pediatrician at Asian Health Services in Oakland.

"Many parents in our community don't want their kids to date to begin with," says Dr. Choi, "and a lot of shame is attached to unwed pregnancy. That is also the worst possible time to force minors to comply with a law such as Prop. 4."

"We always encourage teens to discuss pregnancy with family members," Dr. Choi explains.

Most young women do, according to statistics provided by UCSF's Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. Nationwide, 61 percent of women under age 18 reported letting at least one parent know of their decision to seek an abortion; more than 90 percent of 14-year-olds and 74 percent of 15-year-olds reported doing the same.

But the health care providers insist that safe options must be provided for those teenagers who can't discuss their pregnancy with their parents. "The parents in our clinic are often too busy trying to make a living, and communication with the children is not always in good shape," Dr. Choi explains.

"If the pregnant adolescents are hesitant to tell family members for any reason at all, we inform them of their alternatives and we direct them to sources of safe assistance," Dr. Choi says. He criticizes Prop. 4 for obstructing that process. "Any delay would compel them to look for unsafe means of terminating pregnancy."

State Sen. Leland Yee, a former child psychologist, explains that "talking about sexual matters is very difficult for both the kids and the parents there are so many taboos that lead to problems and misunderstandings."

"So if the kids can't turn to their parents, they must be allowed to turn to health professionals," declares Yee. "Their safety must not be held hostage to the law and the repair of broken communication lines," he adds.

California voters rejected similar parental notification propositions twice before. "Voters rejected it by 52 to 46 percent the first time then 54 to 46 percent in 2006," declares Betty Yee, vice-chair of the State Equalization Board. "This is a misguided attempt to add the pressure of police involvement on health providers, parents and children," she adds.

Betty Yee criticizes the initiative as "a poor use of our tax resources" and an additional load "on our already overburdened court system" as courts would be forced to hear perhaps thousands of new cases of minors seeking to bypass parental notification in order to end a pregnancy.

Rene P. Ciria-Cruz is an editor at New America Media.

Related Articles:

California Latinos Support Prop 4, Divided on Prop 8

Editorial: Gay Marriage, Abortion on the California Ballot

Diversity Gap Grows in UC Med Schools, Says Report

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