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  A Pro-Life Opportunity in California
by Michael J. New
[academic] 11/7/06

It is no secret that the past 10 years have been difficult for the pro-life movement in California.  While other states have spent the past decade enacting different types of protective legislation, progress has remained stalled in the Golden State. There are a variety of reasons for this. Candidates nominated by the Republican party for statewide office have come less reliably pro-life and Democrats sympathetic to abortion have strengthened their control over the state legislature.  However, next Tuesday the initiative process will provide California pro-lifers a rare opportunity to enact legislation that would protect minors and their unborn children. Under consideration is Proposition 85 would require minors to notify their parents before having an abortion.


Michael J. New received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford University and is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama. Michael's research interests include tax limitations, campaign finance reform, and welfare reform. Michael's writings have appeared in a number of publications including Investor's Business Daily, National Review Online, and the Orange Country Register. [go to New index]

Indeed, as one of the first pieces of pro-life legislation to both withstand constitutional scrutiny and enjoy widespread popular approval, parental involvement laws have long since been a legislative priority for the pro-life movement. During the 1990s, Republican gains in many state legislatures facilitated the passage of these laws and currently 37 states have some form of parental-involvement legislation on the books. In fact, because of their widespread popularity, supporters of abortion rights have resorted to using procedural moves to prevent these bills from receiving legislative consideration or filing legal challenges against them in the hopes that they would be nullified by the judiciary.  Both of these things have actually happened to previous parental involvement proposals in California.

However, this is precisely what makes the citizen initiative a good strategy for the pro-life movement in California. By placing a proposal directly on the ballot, the pro-life movement can neatly circumvent the reliably hostile California state legislature. In fact, because of gerrymandered legislative districts, we can be assured that Democrats opposed to pro-life legislation will maintain majority control of the California state legislature for years to come.  However, perhaps even more importantly,  the citizen initiative in California can often be used to amend the state constitution.  This makes it harder for legislation to be nullified by a hostile judiciary. 

Interestingly, California provides a good example of how judicial activism can obstruct statutory pro-life legislation.  In 1987 a pro-life parental consent bill was passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor.  However, an injunction prevented enforcement of this legislation and it was not until 1996 that the bill reached the California Supreme Court.  In a 4-3 ruling the California Supreme Court actually upheld the constitutionality of the bill, but allowed time for a rehearing.  Unfortunately for pro-lifers, one of the judges in the majority retired before the re-hearing and the new appointee voted with the three in the minority to create a new majority against the law. 

Indeed there are plenty of reasons for pro-lifers to be optimistic. Last November, another parental involvement law, Proposition 73 appeared on the ballot in California. Proposition 73 narrowly lost, largely because its supporters were dramatically outspent by their opponents.  However, a key factor that led to the downfall of Proposition 73 was because the 2005 election was largely seen as a referendum on Governor Schwarzenegger‚s reform initiatives. 

It is likely that the unpopularity these proposals, none of which passed, reduced the support for Proposition 73.  However, with no such proposals on the ballot this time, Proposition 85 stands a better chance of receiving majority support.

Furthermore, Proposition 85 appears at a time when there exists a greater scholarly consensus about the effectiveness of parental involvement laws   My recently released Heritage Foundation study analyzed data from 5 states that passed parental involvement laws after 1995. Since this time, the reduction in teen abortions was considerably greater in these 5 states than in the nation as a whole. Furthermore, in these 5 states, the incidence of abortion for minors fell faster than the incidence of abortion for non minors.  Additionally, comprehensive studies which have appeared in journals as diverse as Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, The New England Journal of Medicine, and Contemporary Economic Policy have found solid evidence that parental involvement laws are correlated with reductions in teen abortion rates.

Needless to say, pro-lifers in California still have their work cut out for them.  It is typically far easier to defeat an initiative than to enact one.  And once again supporters of Proposition 85 will likely be outspent by their opponents.  Still pro-lifers have reason to be optimistic.  The partial birth abortion campaign has been effective at shifting public opinion in a more pro-life direction during the past several years.  Furthermore, pro-lifers have become more adept at using the media to promote and defend their position. These facts, and the willingness of pro-lifers to seize the initiative, may well win them an unexpected victory in the Golden state in 2006.  CRO

copyright 2006 Michael New




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