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Pro-family groups seek abortion-notification law, repeal of statute for gay rights in schools

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (Catholic San Francisco) - A coalition of pro-family groups based in Sacramento hopes to gather enough signatures for a statewide initiative to strike down SB 777, a new law stating that public schools may not discriminate against students on the basis of disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.

In addition, a separate campaign has begun for a November 2008 ballot measure to amend the state Constitution so that a minor may not have an abortion without the consent of a parent or other responsible family member. The proposed initiative is called the Child and Teen Safety and Stop Predators Act: Sarah’s Law.

Sarah’s Law: Notification before minor’s abortion

In a change from two previous initiatives that sought to mandate parental notice of a minor’s pending abortion but were defeated by voters, it would allow a minor to designate another family member for notification if she fears she could become the victim of parental abuse.

“In this particular initiative, in order to get around the abusive-parent argument, it is not only the parent who needs to be notified but it can also be a relative,” said Vicki Evans, director of the Respect Life Ministry of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Advocates of parental notification say the existing law is unjust and harmful to minors.

“The existing law is you don’t need parental consent,” Evans said. “So you have school and counselors taking girls as young as 13 for abortions, thinking they are doing the girl a favor. But really what they’re doing is harming the child physically and emotionally by keeping her in the dark.”

Sonoma County winemaker Don Sebastiani, who is a member of the campaign’s steering committee, said the initiative also is intended to counter the trend of adult males using underage girls for sex. The notification of parents or family members by minors seeking abortions would help expose the abusers, he said.

“We’re trying to put as many impediments to it in as many ways possible,” he said, adding that the proposed initiative is modeled on parental notification measures in force in other states.

SB 777: ‘Social and sexual agenda in the classroom’

Opponents of SB 777 are collecting signatures at 44 centers in the state, mostly in Southern California and the Central Valley. Their goal is to gather 435,000 verified signatures from registered voters by Jan. 10, the deadline for county clerks to receive petitions for measures seeking to qualify for the June ballot.

If the campaign succeeds in gathering the required number of valid signatures, the implementation of the law would be suspended until the election is decided.

The campaign is being directed by Capitol Resource Family Impact, a pro-family group based in Sacramento, said Karen England, the group’s executive director. In an interview with Catholic San Francisco, England said she fears that the law, also called the California Student Civil Rights Act, “is promoting a social and sexual agenda in the classroom.”

The California Catholic Conference and Catholics for the Common Good, a San Francisco-based lay apostolate for the evangelization of culture, raised similar concerns in September in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not to the sign the bill. Catholic opponents also warned that the bill could make it illegal to uphold certain Church teachings, such as traditional marriage as a benefit for children and society. A fact sheet by the campaign to defeat SB777 at the polls, called Save our Kids, argues that the measure “purposely adds new mandates for school instruction and activities.”

In a Dec. 17 e-mail to supporters, England added: “We are constantly amazed at the lengths to which our opposition goes in hiding their true agenda from the unsuspecting public.”

She wrote that in prohibiting discrimination against students on the basis of sexual orientation, the measure opens the door to pro-gay classroom instruction and activities.

In an interview, she said students had ample civil-rights protections before the law was passed. She argued that proponents are promoting bias under the guise of eliminating it.

“It promotes the idea that bisexuality and homosexuality are equal to heterosexuality,” she said. “San Francisco values shouldn’t be forced on all the other school districts in the state.”

Bill supporters: It’s about discrimination

Proponents of SB777 strongly disagreed.

The law does not expand the civil-rights protections that were in the state Education Code before the governor signed it, Superintendent of Instruction Jack O’Connell said in a recent letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

“It does clarify just what those protections include by providing an explicit and clear list of all the prohibited bases of discrimination” in publicly funded K-12 schools, he wrote.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, said the clarifications were made at the request of school districts. “The whole bill is about discrimination,” she told Catholic San Francisco. “It does nothing affirmative.”

Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a group whose mission is to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians, said SB777 clarifies language that had been confusing for school districts.

“There’s nothing in it that requires any curriculum change whatever,” he said. “That is the law in California: marriage is between a man and a woman. And while I personally may be willing to change that, the law is the law. We don’t let teachers bring personal prejudices in.”

Asked to comment on opponents’ allegation that the change in law is a means to promote curriculum changes, he said: “We always want teachers to know about curriculum that is supportive of education and supportive of LGBT people, but that’s not required of schools.”

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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of Catholic San Francisco (www.catholic-sf.org),official newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Calif.

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