The parent trap
An initiative that would make it harder for teens to get abortions pits young girls against … an alternative-newspaper publisher?
Fourteen-year-old Priscilla Chavez has a friend like that, she says, who was shunned by her parents rather than embraced when she got pregnant.
“She got kicked out of the house when she told them,” Chavez said. “Some parents don’t know how to deal with it.”
Chavez, a Sacramento girl whose mother works at a Planned Parenthood clinic, has never had to seek out an abortion clinic. But if she were to get pregnant, she said, she’d want a safe place to turn for counseling and, perhaps, surgery—beyond the reach of her mother’s radar.
“Some girls don’t want to disappoint their parents,” she said.
Lined up in support of Chavez’s point of view is a coalition that includes Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women. They and others seek to preserve a teenage girl’s right to have an abortion in California without first notifying a parent.
But on the pro-life side of the debate stands a seemingly unlikely trio of political activists with deep pockets: a delivery-pizza-chain founder from Michigan, a winemaker and former state legislator from Sonoma, and the publisher of a San Diego alternative weekly newspaper.
The latter, James Holman, founder and publisher of the San Diego Reader, has given or loaned more than $1.2 million to the effort, according to state campaign-finance records. That puts the 59-year-old father of seven in the counterintuitive position of supporting a conservative cause while representing a largely liberal institution: the alternative media.
Holman is also in the unique position of having handed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger the ability to call a special election. Monday, June 13, is the governor’s deadline to call for a special election so that one may be held on the second Tuesday in November. To do so, according to state law, he must have in hand an already-qualified initiative to put on that ballot. Enter parental notification, which, until this past Monday, was the only qualified initiative. Signatures for two others—one that would restrict political spending by government employees’ unions and another that would lengthen the probationary period for public-school teachers—were verified this week.
The notification initiative—whose signature-gathering drive was aided in large part by the state’s Catholic community—will be the first pro-life question ever posed to the state’s voters, according to those on both sides of the issue. If passed, the proposed amendment to the state constitution would require that a minor wait 48 hours before receiving an abortion and would obligate care providers to notify a parent before performing the procedure.
Chavez’s mother, Juanita Cuevas, who works as a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood’s South Sacramento clinic, said she routinely counsels teen girls and believes that restricting youths’ access to confidential medical treatment will increase self-abortions and abandonment.
“I honestly think they’d take it into their own hands. I was talking to this one [girl], and she said if she couldn’t get this done here, then she’d get into a catfight and hope the other girl punched her in the stomach … or something,” Cuevas said. “We’re just going to go back to where we were in the past.”
Planned Parenthood Mar Monte’s Katharyn McLearan said the agency’s research shows that most girls do include parents in the decision to abort. But she agreed that a law would not fix familial problems for those who cannot.
Alvin Rhomberg, a Sacramentan acting as a spokesman for Life on the Ballot, the group backing the initiative, said the proposed constitutional amendment was carefully written to allow for unique situations, such as medical emergencies and toxic family environments.
“There are some bad parents; we recognize that,” Rhomberg said. “There’s a judicial bypass for that.”
Cuevas countered: “I don’t think if my daughter—if she couldn’t talk to me—that she’d be comfortable talking to a judge or another government person.”
While the proposed law allows for loopholes, its intent is to prevent abortions. That much is clear from its major backer, Holman.
Holman, who also publishes Catholic news-monthlies throughout the state, said during a brief telephone interview last week that his support of the Parental Notification Initiative should not come as a surprise.
“I’ve been involved in pro-life work for years,” he said, describing that work as “supporting candidates mainly.”
State campaign-finance records also show that he has spent money to oppose last year’s Proposition 71—the stem-cell-research initiative that passed with more than 59 percent of the state’s vote—and to support would-be politician Bill Simon’s bid for state treasurer.
Holman’s political views also have appeared in his publication: He refuses to run gay personal ads in the Reader, a glossy-covered 200-page-plus weekly. That’s notable in a city—the nation’s seventh largest—with a sizeable gay and lesbian community. It’s even more notable in his industry, said Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.
“I can’t think of any other papers that do that,” Karpel said. “Though, my understanding is that the paper is basically a writers’ paper. I don’t believe Jim stamps his political template on the paper.”
Karpel said that alternative newsweeklies are generally viewed as liberal and progressive because most of them lean in that direction. But he added, “We’re not a monolithic group.”
Holman said publishing a newspaper doesn’t preclude him from being politically active.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, as long as you’re honest about it,” he said, adding that he tries to stay out of San Diego-area politics so as not to create any conflicts for employees of the Reader.
Winemaker and former state Assemblyman Don Sebastiani has contributed $150,000 to Life on the Ballot, and Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan has given $250,000.
Thirty-three states employ some version of a parental-notification law, according to McLearan. She said 11 others, including California and Nevada, have laws on the books that are not in effect because of court orders. Neighboring Oregon has no law relating to teen abortions, and Arizona requires parental consent before an abortion can be performed on a minor.
Meanwhile, Chavez, whose relationship with her mother is open enough that the two discuss such topics, said she doesn’t think she would tell her mother before seeking an abortion.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Even though she’s a Planned Parenthood lady, I don’t think I would, because I would be afraid of her thinking badly of me.”
Cuevas said she is comfortable with that and wants only to ensure that her daughter and other girls continue to have a safe place to turn.
“This is a woman’s right,” she said. “And I understand that a 14-year-old isn’t yet a woman, but it’s her right.”