By Dave Andrusko
In a decision expected to be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, an Anchorage Superior Court judge Monday upheld the constitutionality of most of a state law requiring parents to be notified before their minor daughter has an abortion.
Judge John Suddock “said the legal requirement does not violate a teenager’s right to privacy,” wrote Lisa Demer of the Anchorage Daily News. “Nor, the judge ruled, does it violate provisions to treat people equally even though a pregnant teen generally cannot receive an abortion without her parents’ knowing, but could get prenatal care.”
However there were portions of Judge John Suddock’s 65-page decision that were decidedly unhelpful.
The law was a reflection of an August 2010 voter initiative (Ballot Measure 2) that passed with 55% support. Most aspects took effect that December 2010.
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and two abortionists sued and the state defended the law. Judge Suddock heard both sides during a three-week trial in February and March.
In 2011, the first full year after the law was in place, there was a 23% drop in the number of abortions for girls 17 and under—from 113 in 2010 to 87 in 2011, according to the state Bureau of Vital Statistics.
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest argued that the law “could delay or prevent vulnerable girls from receiving an abortion because of the legal hoops and complicated mechanisms,” Demers reported. The state disagreed. Demers wrote
“We said, ‘Have there been girls put into difficult situations because of this law?'” recalled Margaret Paton Walsh, an assistant attorney general who was part of the state’s trial team defending the law. “And the answer to that question was ‘Not really.’ … The girls who wanted abortions have gotten abortions.”
The law has a judicial bypass that allows the teenager to skirt the requirement to notify her parents. The law also provides that the minor can provide the abortionist with a notarized statement attesting to abuse at home.
According to Demer, “In the 14 months that the law was in effect before the February trial, just nine minors went to court to bypass the notification requirement, Suddock said in his order. Eight petitions were granted and one teen withdrew her request.”
He also reinstated possibility of criminal penalties for abortionists who knowingly violate the parental notice requirement, a provision that had been blocked since a preliminary ruling in December 2010. However, Demer reported. “Suddock said it was unlikely that a medical provider would be prosecuted under the law.” He also struck a provision allowing civil damages against abortion providers.
Suddock also held that even though Ballot Measure 2 requires that abortionists themselves notify parents, it was permissible for other clinic staffers to notify parents. In addition, “Parents who accompany a minor to the clinic must show proof of the relationship, such as a birth certificate, a requirement that also had been on hold,” Demer writes.
In 2007, in a 3-2 decision, the state Supreme Court struck down a law requiring parents to consent to a teen’s abortion. The inference was that there might be room for a law requiring only notification.
The new law “has a small but real upside; a small but real downside; an enormous symbolic significance to the adopting electorate; and the implicit approval of the Alaska Supreme Court,” Suddock wrote.
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