Planned Parenthood spending helps defeat the California parental rights law, Prop 73 post mortem

By Jack Smith

Proposition 73, an initiative proposal requiring parental notification prior to performing an abortion on a minor, was voted down by a slim margin in the Statewide Special Election Nov. 8. Prop. 73 failed by a margin of 47.4 to 52.6 percent to bring California law into line with the vast majority of other States.

On an election day where every statewide initiative was rejected by voters, Proposition 73 managed to garner more yes votes than any other initiative. The closest in comparison was Proposition 75 regarding the use of union dues for political activity, which received 30,000 fewer yes votes than 73. Other initiatives received up to one million fewer votes than 73.

Still it was a huge defeat for an initiative that, according to some polls, was ahead by nearly 20 points in the weeks leading up to the election. Bill May, chairman of Catholics for the Common Good, said after the election that parents and families all over the country lost out to the powerful interests of Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry.

Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the California Democratic Party were the largest institutional opponents of 73. Planned Parenthood affiliates, which receive the largest portion of their funds from State of California programs, gave millions to the No on 73 effort. Two affiliates, Los Angeles and Mar Monte, gave at least $500,000 each.

An election map for Prop. 73 shows a huge disparity in levels of support and opposition, similar to the red and blue state divides in recent national elections. In general, north coastal counties and those around the Bay Area opposed Prop. 73 by large margins, while southern, central valley and mountain counties supported 73. The exception in the south was Californias behemoth in terms of voting numbers, Los Angeles, which with 23 percent of all voters on election day, opposed 73 by 57 percent to 43 percent.

San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo Counties were the first, second, and sixth respectively of California’s 58 counties in levels of no votes. Seventy-nine percent of voters in San Francisco opposed 73, and precincts in Marin County registered opposition up to 95 percent (Muir Beach). Not a single precinct in Marin County supported the initiative, though a near 50 percent support in several precincts of Novato saved Marin from being number one in opposition. Sixty-six percent of San Mateo County voters opposed the initiative.

In far different parts of the State, the heavily Hispanic southern county of Imperial supported 73 with 68 percent of the vote as did the central valley county of Kern. Most smaller counties supported the initiative. Large counties supporting it with big margins were San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego and Fresno.

Catholic San Francisco asked Bill May from Catholics for the Common Good for his thoughts on the 73 defeat. While less than two years old, Catholics for the Common Good has become an important grass roots organizer in California and is the largest Catholic action group in the state. While founded locally, it now has active members, volunteers and organizers around California.

CCG worked in coordination with the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, diocesan Respect Life coordinators and with Parents for 73, the principle campaign organization in support of 73. Using volunteer created technology, people from throughout the state could volunteer on CCGs website and within 24 hours be in contact with a CCG leader or other campaign official.

May said, “California voters were definitely in a mood to say No on election day. . . It is much easier to defeat an initiative than to pass one. While pre-election polling showed strong support for Prop. 73, all Planned Parenthood needed to do is confuse the voters to get them to vote for the status quo, which was No in the case of Prop. 73”, May said.

Pre-election surveys also showed strong support for 73 among blacks and Hispanics and people with the lowest educational levels, groups where lower incomes are more prevalent. That’s a disparity of perspective which seemed to hold through to election day where the wealthiest precincts in the state showed the strongest opposition to parental notification. May said, “This shows how the poor, often living in predatory environments, are struggling to maintain control over their families and protect their children.”

May, who is a seasoned organizer of statewide initiative campaigns in California, credited Planned Parenthood with a well run campaign. “They did an effective job of misrepresenting the facts in a way that scared some voters and they had the money and organization to make that message stick in the final days. Voters at polling stations in many places opposed Prop. 73 by a ten percent greater margin than their neighbors who voted absentee.”

It is difficult to state the amount of money spent by the Yes side, but May estimates that Planned Parenthood outspent our side by a factor of 10-1. Another element in the defeat of Prop. 73 was that efforts of the Yes side were diffused among a number of separate but cooperating campaign organizations, while Planned Parenthood had one central campaign.

Despite the loss, May is encouraged by many messages of support from volunteers from throughout the state. They are ready to go to work on the next issue, he said. “I think what this experience taught them is that they are not powerless to confront the culture.”

May said the California Conference of Catholic Bishops did a marvelous job in preparing campaign materials and in providing other forms of leadership to the campaign. He said, however, that often people improperly look to the bishops for political leadership on moral issues. That is the job of the laity. Popes and bishops have already given us our marching orders through their teachings. May is encouraged that more and more Catholics are taking up the challenge to confront culture and defend the weak and vulnerable, which is a part of our baptismal promises, he said. “Guided by the Church’s teachings and the Holy Spirit, the laity can change the culture and be a force for the common good.”

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This article was posted with permission from Catholic San Francisco, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Jack Smith is Editor.

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