California Proposition 4, Parental Notification for Minor's Abortion (2008)

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Proposition 4, or the Abortion Waiting Period and Parental Notification Initiative, also known to its supporters as Sarah's Law, was on the November 4, 2008 ballot in California. The measure lost with 48.0% of the vote.[1]

Had it passed, it would have added a new amendment to the California Constitution.[2],[3],[4]

The initiative petition would prohibit abortion for unemancipated minors until 48 hours after physician notifies minor’s parent, legal guardian or, if parental abuse has been reported, an alternative adult family member.

See also: La Propuesta 4 de California

Election results

California Proposition 4
Votes Percentage
Yes 6,071,863 48.0
NO 10px-600px-Red x.png 6,570,777 52.0%
Total votes 12,642,640 100%

Specific provisions

The proposed initiative petition, if enacted as a constitutional amendment, would have:

  • Provides exceptions for medical emergency or parental waiver.
  • Permits courts to waive notice based on clear and convincing evidence of minor’s maturity or best interests.
  • Mandates reporting requirements, including reports from physicians regarding abortions on minors.
  • Authorizes monetary damages against physicians for violation.
  • Requires minor’s consent to abortion, with exceptions.
  • Permits judicial relief if minor’s consent is coerced.

Fiscal Impact

  • Health and Social Services Costs. Annual costs in the range of $4 million to $5 million for the state and about $2 million for counties, and potential one-time Medi-Cal automation costs unlikely to exceed a few million dollars.
  • Costs to Local Law Enforcement and Courts. Annual costs in the range of $5 million to $6 million per year.
  • Potential Offsetting Savings. Unknown, potential savings to the state in health care and public assistance costs from decreases in sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy.[5]


  • The Friends of Sarah, the Parental or Alternative Family Member Notification Act. is the official ballot committee.[6]
  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger [7]
  • Dr. Joseph R. Zanga, M.D., FFAP, Past President American Academy of Pediatrics [8]
  • Barbara Alby, Author, California's "Megan's Law" Child Protection Legislation [9]
  • Mary L. Davenport, M.D., Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [10]
  • Thomas Murphy Goodwin, M.D., FAAP, FACOG, Professor Of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Pediatrics Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California [11]
  • The Honorable Rod Pacheco, J.D., District Attorney, Riverside County [12]
  • The Honorable Tony Rackauckas, J.D., District Attorney, Orange County [13]
  • The Honorable Bob Brooks, Sheriff, Ventura County [14]
  • The Honorable Dennis Downum, Sheriff, Calaveras County [15]
  • Frank Lee, President, Organization for Justice & Equality [16]
  • Dr. Kenneth Williams, School Board Member, Orange County [17]

Arguments in favor of Prop. 4

Notable arguments that have been made in favor of Prop. 4 include:

  • When a minor obtains an abortion without the knowledge of a family member or guardian, her health can be endangered if health complications arise after the abortion. Prop 4 is named after a 15 year old minor, Sarah, who died after receiving a botched abortion. Family is needed to assist with medical history and appropriate after care.[18]
  • If a minor becomes pregnant because of sexual violence or predation, a sexual predator may be missed, because the abortion clinic may not report the sexual crime. Although clinics are mandated reporters of abuse, repeated cases of sexual predators concealing crimes through secret abortions reveals a broken system in CA and the need for family notification.


As of September 27, 2008, the six largest donors to Prop. 4 are:

  • James Holman, $1,525,590. (Of this, $1.35 million is listed as a loan.)[19]
  • Don Sebastiani, $530,000.[20]
  • Knights of Columbus, $200,000.
  • Life Legal Defense Foundation, $50,000.
  • The Lenawee Trust, $100,000.
  • The Caster Family Trust, $100,000.

Path to ballot and prior attempts at passage

The signature-gathering drive to qualify the 2008 Parental Notification petition for the ballot was conducted by Bader & Associates, Inc., a petition management company owned by Tom Bader and Joy Bader, at a cost of $2.555 million.[21]

Proposition 4 represents the third time that California voters will have considered the issue of a parental notification/waiting period for abortion. The two previous, unsuccessful, initiatives were California Proposition 85 (2006) and California Proposition 73 (2005).

When Prop 73 lost in 2005, some supporters thought that a similar measure would fare better in a general election. However, Prop 85 did worse. Unlike 85 or 73, the Sarah's Law initiative petition allows an adult relative of the minor seeking an abortion to be notified, if the minor's parents are abusive.

Camille Giulio, a spokeswoman for the pro-4 campaign said that the November 2008 election represents a better opportunity for parental notification legislation because:

  • There will be a higher voter turnout in November 2008 than when 85 and 73 were voted on. However, greater turnout tends to favor Democratic candidates and propositions, who in the past have rejected similar measures by significant majorities.
  • Socially conservative voters will be motivated to come to the polls to vote in favor of the much higher profile Proposition 8. While at the polls, they are likely to also vote in favor of 4. Template:Cite needed
  • The two previous campaigns represented purportedly narrow defeats in low budget campaigns.[22] However, In fact, Prop 85 supporters spent $4.4 million and lost by a greater than 700,000-vote margin.
Year Proposition Votes for Votes against
2006 Prop 85
2005 Prop 73

Opposition to Prop. 4

The Campaign for Teen Safety is the official ballot committee against the proposition.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics, California District
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, District IX
  • California Academy of Family Physicians
  • California Family Health Council
  • California Nurses Association
  • California School Counselors Association
  • California Teachers Association
  • Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California
  • California NOW
  • Equality California
  • The Let California Ring coalition[23]

Arguments against Prop. 4

Notable arguments that have been made against Prop. 4 include:

  • Mandated parental notification laws don't work. No law can mandate family communication.
  • Some teenagers can't go to their parents because they fear being kicked out of the house, beaten, or worse.
  • Prop 4 may force these teens to delay medical care, turn to self-induced abortions, or consider suicide.
  • If a teen chooses to go to another adult, her parents would automatically be reported to authorities and an investigation would ensue.[24]


The No on 4 campaign has hired the Dewey Square Group[25] as a consultant.[26]

Donors to opposition

As of September 27, some of the top donors to the opposition campaign were:

  • A number of different Planned Parenthood affiliates, including the Los Angeles, Mar Monte, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Shasta Diablo and Pasadena offices, $4,485,000
  • California Teachers Association, $450,000.
  • California Family Health Council, $80,000.
  • Committee for a New Economy, $25,000.
  • ACLU, Northern California, $50,000.
  • ACLU, Southern California, $10,000.
  • Susan Orr, $100,000.
  • John Morgridge, $100,000.[27],[28]

Lawsuit filed over Prop. 4 language

Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California and others filed a lawsuit with the Sacramento County Superior Court in early August to strike out all references to "Sarah" and "Sarah's Law" and "other misleading language in the voter's guide" for Proposition 4. The title "Sarah's Law" refers to the case of 15-year-old "Sarah" who died as a result of an abortion in 1994. Proposition 4's ballot language in the official voter's guide suggests that "Sarah" might have been saved had her parents known about her abortion. Opponents of Proposition 4 argue that "Sarah" was not considered a minor in Texas, where the abortion was performed, and that she already had a child with a man who claimed to be her common law husband. Opponents asked that the references to Sarah to be stricken; however, proponents argued the name "Sarah" was given to the minor in her court case. Proponents of Prop 4 therefore claim they reference her as "Sarah," remaining consistent with the court filings to protect the identity of a minor who died as a result of a botched abortion. Proponents also argued that Sarah obtained her abortion as a self-identified 15 year old, single girl. Opponents were unable to provide evidence of the common law marriage. Therefore, Sarah's Law would have applied to the teen. Medical experts in her case stated has someone in her family known about the abortion, her life could have been saved.[29]

Judge Michael Kenny of the Sacramento Superior Court ultimately ruled against the opponents, allowing the original proposed ballot language and arguments, including references to Sarah, to stay in the official California voter's pamphlet. Opponents to the measure have been unable to provide evidence of notification laws causing real harm to minors.


See also Polls, 2008 ballot measures.

The Field Poll has conducted and released the results of three public opinion polls on Proposition 4, in July, August and September.[30],[31],[32]

Mark DiCamillo, director of the polling agency, said he believes the current version is running stronger because Latinos overwhelmingly favor it and are expected to vote in higher-than-usual numbers in November.[33]

Month of Poll Month of Poll In Favor Opposed Undecided
July 2008 Field 48 percent 39 percent 13 percent
August 2008 Field 47 percent 44 percent 9 percent
September 2008 Field 49 percent 41 percent 10 percent
Oct 12-19, 2008 PPIC 46 percent 44 percent 10 percent[34]
Nov. 1-2 SurveyUSA 40 percent 46 percent 14 percent[35]

Newspaper endorsements

Editorial boards in favor

Editorial boards opposed

The Los Angeles Times encourages a "no" vote on 4, saying, "If this measure passes, some girls will seek out illegal abortions rather than notify their parents."[36] The San Francisco Chronicle is also opposed, writing, "Family communication cannot be forged by government edict, and reckless teen behavior will not be deterred by merely making abortion more difficult."[37] The San Francisco Bay Guardian calls the measure "horrible" and "another erosion of abortion rights".[38]

Basic information




  1. Official election results
  2. San Francisco Chronicle, Parental notification measures make Calif. ballot, May 30, 2008
  3. Los Angeles Times, Parental notification: Again!, May 31, 2008
  4. Stateline, "Social issues crowd state ballots", July 24, 2008
  5. Fiscal Impact Statement
  6. Committee registration
  7. Schwarzenegger on Jim Holman's ballot measure
  8. Secretary of State voter guide
  9. Secretary of State voter guide
  10. Secretary of State voter guide
  11. Secretary of State voter guide
  12. Secretary of State voter guide
  13. Secretary of State voter guide
  14. Yes on 4 Endorsements
  15. Yes on 4 Endorsements
  16. Yes on 4 Endorsements
  17. Yes on 4 Endorsements
  18. Los Angeles Times, Op-ed by Margaret Pearson, "Proposition 4 protects girls", October 3, 2008
  19. San Diego Union-Tribune, Abortion notification backers not giving up, April 14, 2008
  20. Contribution detail
  21. Campaign expenditure details
  22. Hollister Free Lance News, "Parental notice for abortion back on Calif. ballot", October 3, 2008
  23. Look out for Prop 4 and Prop 8
  24. Arguments against Proposition 4 from the official California voter's guide
  25. Dewey Square Group
  26. No on 4 expenditures
  27. Associated Press, "Breakdown of donations for California ballot measures", August 1, 2008
  28. Secretary of State - Cal-Access
  29. Activists File Lawsuit to Strike "Sarah's Law" Language from CA Ballot Initiative, August 5, 2008
  30. July 22 Field Poll results on Proposition 4
  31. California Poll Shows Small Lead for Measure for Parental Notification on Abortion, August 28, 2008
  32. Field Poll: Voters narrowly favoring Prop. 4, the September poll
  33. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Third abortion initiative given chance of passing"
  34. PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and their government, released October 22, 2008
  35. Sacramento Bee's Capitol Alert, "Survey says: New polling on Props. 4, 8, 11 and Obama-McCain", November 3, 2008
  36. Los Angeles Times, "No on Proposition 4", September 25, 2008
  37. San Francisco Chronicle, "California Proposition 4 would undermine abortion rights", September 18, 2008

Additional reading