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Mich. Schools Must Inform Students of New Abortion Law

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Michigan school districts will soon be legally obligated to tell their students how they can have an abortion without the knowledge or consent of their parents.

Under a law that was adopted by the legislature late last year and takes effect on March 28, all unemancipated minors will need the consent of at least one parent to get an abortion.

If minor can convince a judge that she is mature enough to make this decision on her own, the requirement can be waived.

But under Section 9 of the law, which until three weeks ago was unknown to many local educators, schools will be required to notify all students in grades 6 through 12 about the new measure.

This notice, which will be distributed at the beginning of every school year, will outline the parental-consent and judicial-bypass provisions, as well as the address and telephone number of the local probate court if they want to seek a waiver.

Educators across the state predicted last week that the new law will make schools a battleground in the acrimonious debate over abortion rights.

"My guess is that we have at least 50 percent of the parents opposed to this law," said Jerome Montecillo, superintendent of the Clarenceville School District.

"Parents want the right to talk to their kids about this," he said. "They don't want the schools to do this."

"It seems that it is a social issue that has been brought into the schools because that's where the kids are," said Ralph Burde, superintendent of the Newaygo School District.

Many educators also noted that the new law appears to conflict with a 1977 sex-education law that prohibits the discussion of abortion as a means of birth control or repro8ductive health.

Ray Telman, the associate executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, said Section 9 puts educators "in the unenviable situation of handing [the notice] out and not being able to answer any questions."

Many of these questions may be answered when the state education department finishes work on a standardized notification form, said Robert G. Harris, a department spokesman.

Mr. Harris said the law required the department to develop the form to ensure that the state's approximately 800,000 public-school students in grades 6-12 receive unbiased information about the law.

The notification requirement was offered as an amendment to the parental-consent law during the last hour of the legislature's 1989 debate on the measure by an abortion-rights advocate. Although the bill was passed by a wide margin, former Gov. James Blanchard vetoed it.

Following the veto, Right to Life of Michigan led a successful petition campaign to bring the measure, including Section 9, back before the legislature. The bill was readopted late last year, and under state law, could not be blocked again by the Governor.

Although they were the primary sponsors of the parental-consent bill, Gena Gillentine, a spokesman for Right to Life, said her group is now trying to repeal Section 9.

"We knew that if this was going to cause problems, it could be repealed," she said.

In the meantime, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Michigan and the American Civil Liberties Union are trying to block the entire law from taking effect. Hearings were held in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court last week on the issue.

Margy Long, director of the ppam, said her group would support Section 9 if the entire measure is upheld by the courts.

"We think there has been a fair amount of hysteria about this," she said. "This is simply giving [students] information that the law exists."

A teenager who is willing to tell her parents that she wants an abortion, Ms. Long said, "wouldn't be convinced not to go to their parent as a result of this."

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