THE PARENT TRAP
Before Theresa Andress took her job with the Planned Parenthood clinic in La Junta, she managed a convenience store.
"At the Loaf `n' Jug, there was this kid, about sixteen, so sweet, always coming in to my store," she recalled. "A few weeks after I came over here, he came by with a friend. `We just wanted to say hi,' he said. And he stood around for a while longer and then he said, `Uh, while we're here, can we have some condoms?'"
At La Junta's two convenience stores, you can't get condoms unless you go into the bathroom and try your luck with one of the dispensers. But you can get them, no questions asked, at the Planned Parenthood clinic, one of 36 the group runs across Colorado. You can also get Pap smears, breast-cancer testing and prenatal care.
What you can't get are abortions. Not there, nor at any of the dozen rural Planned Parenthood clinics that often are the only ob-gyn providers in the area.
This, however, does not deter Lakewood legislator Norma Anderson, sponsor of the current bill that would require parents be notified before a minor can get an abortion. In an amendment hastily tacked onto HB 1329 last week, Anderson proposed that the $51,000 needed to fund her tattletale program be taken out of a portion of the budget devoted to family planning services, including the rural clinics run by Planned Parenthood.
In the process, Anderson has put the family back in family planning--and taken the planning out. By removing money from programs that help prevent pregnancies in the first place, Anderson's measure is almost certain to increase family size--and fast.
But the ironies don't end there. The $51,000 that Anderson wants to carve out of the budget will not go to supporting a young mother, will not go to feeding a needy baby. No, it will go to paying lawyers.
Adding insult to injury, Anderson's amendment came after the House had already approved the complicated, long-negotiated budget bill that, among its many components, earmarked money specifically for family planning services--not more legal services.
That move cost the measure the support of Representative William Jerke, at least for now. "I didn't much care for the precedent or the timing," says the Republican lawmaker, who sided with the four Democratic members of the appropriations committee in voting against HB 1329 last Wednesday. "To raid these funds and use them for lawyers and judges didn't have any rationale for me."
But even before Anderson's raid on the budget bill, her measure defied rational thought. For starters, it would require that a doctor notify parents when their daughter is seeking an abortion. (Supporters make much fuss over the fact that while parents must be notified, they need not issue their consent--but for a pregnant teen, there's not much difference between the two.) The doctor can make this notification one of two ways: He can send a certified letter and wait for the receipt that lets him know it was picked up, or he can hire a process server to do the job. And even after the doctor has done his duty and is certain the parents know their daughter is in a family way, he must wait 48 hours before performing an abortion.
Assuming, of course, the teenager is still around to request it.
Besides skipping town, the teenager has a legal option: She can appeal to her local court that the requirement for parental notification be waived. That's where the $51,000 comes in--to fund lawyers not for the girls, but for the state. (In the original version of the bill, physicians would have had to keep their attorneys' numbers handy, too--failing to notify parents initially carried criminal penalties for any delinquent docs. That, too, was amended out of the bill last week.)
Anderson champions her bill as a matter of parental rights and responsibilities. But even before she revealed her novel funding plan, critics were taking aim at her reasoning. The biggest guns, not surprisingly, were hauled out by Planned Parenthood--which had recently survived an assault by Representative Penn Pfiffner that proposed removing all family planning services from the budget. Even assuming that the notion of parental notification made sense--an assumption Planned Parenthood would never make--Anderson's proposal harbors some potentially fatal flaws. In reality, the mandated 48-hour waiting period could easily stretch to weeks. In rural areas, abortion providers are few and far between; in Durango, such services are offered only once a week, in Grand Junction only twice a month. After her first visit to the doctor, a pregnant girl would have to wait until her parents had received notification, then wait until the doctor returned to town before going in for an abortion. "That could easily push a teen into the second trimester," points out PP's Katie Reinisch.
If the teen hasn't already been pushed over the edge by pro-life protesters. At Denver's PP clinic, picketers already take down license plate numbers--a mandated wait would give them time to track down the patients. "What the waiting period will do," says one pro-life activist in another state, "is allow us to trace who the women are, to follow them home in an attempt to find someone--their parent, their husband, their boyfriend..."
And the one legal out provides little protection for the teen who'd rather go to court than let her parents know about her pregnancy. Assuming she can figure out how to file her appeal, she must do so using her own initials. In small towns, it's not going to be hard to connect the figure sitting on the courtroom bench with a certain set of initials.
But it was Anderson's most recent budget maneuver that really stoked PP's fire. "This has revealed their true agenda," says Reinisch. "This is not a true family values bill. At the legislature, they're looking at so many ways to cut welfare benefits. Our services help women control the size of families and get them off welfare."
This year, Planned Parenthood received $198,000 from the state to run its rural clinics. It was an investment in planning a better future for some of this state's youngest residents.
Anderson's amended bill goes back to the House this week. But one vote's already in: It probably won't play in La Junta.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.