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Secrecy not the answer in abortion decision.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Drea Olmstead For The Register-Guard

As an obstetrician-gynecologist - and, more importantly, as a mother - I feel the need to respond to The Register-Guard's Oct. 12 editorial regarding parental notification. Though the newspaper's editors recommended a `no' vote on Measure 43, as a physician I have no choice but to vote yes.

Our current abortion policy regarding minors is simply not good medicine. A collaborative report done by Cornell University, the University of Rochester and the New York State Center for School Safety showed that the areas of the brain that control judgment, emotions, decision-making and organization are not fully developed by the teenage years. How can we as medical providers and parents expect these teens to make such a serious decision on their own?

The irony in Oregon is that these same girls must have parental consent (not just notification, as in Measure 43) to even get an aspirin from a school nurse.

The Register-Guard had the gall to imply that medical professionals are better equipped to care for these teenage girls than their parents. Abortion is an invasive medical procedure that carries the risk of many physical, emotional and psychological consequences.

In my practice I rely heavily on parents for medical history, since most girls do not know their own history. Furthermore, 95 percent of abortions are not performed by a young girl's primary care physician, but by a complete stranger who has never cared for her and will never see her again.

Not only is keeping such a major decision a secret from parents bad policy, but the subsequent lack of follow-up care is bad medicine.

Girls need regular medical follow-up after an abortion to detect future complications. It is highly unlikely that a teenage girl will seek appropriate treatment for complications arising from a secret abortion, thus endangering her health. I cannot go home with the young girl, therefore the care that I can provide is limited to my office - only parents can provide care beyond that.

No matter where you stand on the issue of abortion, Measure 43 is the right choice. We all want to protect and support teenage girls. No matter what they choose, they are making a life-changing decision that should not be made with shame or secrecy. Every one of these girls is scared. They want out. They want a quick fix.

I have seen many of these girls, and what they really need is love and guidance through one of the hardest times in their lives. They don't know who to ask or where to go to get the facts. The truth is, I have seen lives changed by girls who decided to change their lives for the better for the sake of their baby.

Our goal as medical professionals, parents and citizens should be to walk alongside these women, no matter what they choose. We are deceiving ourselves and pregnant teens if we feel secrecy is the answer.

For the few girls who cannot tell their parents for fear of abuse, there is a simple bypass available in Measure 43. A girl is able to have a confidential hearing with an administrative law judge in the Department of Human Services, either in person or over the phone, to show that she has the understanding and maturity to make such a grown-up decision.

DHS judges, according to an article in The (Portland) Oregonian, primarily deal with foster care home issues and coverage under the Oregon Health Plan. Therefore, they are uniquely equipped to deal with family and health issues. The judge can then waive the notification requirement if it is not in the minor's best interest.

This option protects victims of rape, incest and abuse by offering a safe way to expose it and get the help that the girl needs. Parental notification provides help to girls who have been victimized, rather than allowing them to have an abortion in secret and then return home to be abused again.

The bypass option is working in 35 states with virtually all requests granted, leaving no doubt that it would work well in Oregon as well.

This measure is designed for the protection of minor girls during an extraordinarily difficult time. Whether they know it yet, they need love and guidance during this traumatic time - and who better to give it than their parents?

I believe that giving these girls the best care possible means involving their parents. As a doctor, I know that no matter how well I do my job, I can never take the place of a young girl's parents.

That is why as a physician and a mother I wholeheartedly support this ballot measure and urge you to vote yes on 43.

Dr. Drea Olmstead practices women's health in Tualatin.
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 3, 2006
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