Alaska Supreme Court strikes down state’s parental notification law

By Dave Andrusko

parentsignature4reWhen last we wrote about Alaska’s parental notification law, Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest had just appealed Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock’s 65-page decision that upheld the constitutionality of most of the law.

Unfortunately, the Alaska Supreme Court today gutted the law approved by 55% of the voters in 2010. On a vote of 4-1, the justices ruled the law could not be enforced because it did not comply with the state constitution’s equal protection provisions.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Dana Fabe, who was chief justice when the case was heard, “said that while she disagreed with the conclusion that the law violates equal protection, she believes it violates fundamental privacy rights,” the Associated Press reported.

Justice Craig Stowers was the lone dissenter.

Writing for the majority, Justice Daniel Winfree concluded that law “inappropriately discriminates by involving the state in the reproductive decisions only of pregnant minors who seek abortions — not of pregnant minors who plan to carry their babies to term,” AP’s Becky Bohrer reported. Figure that one out.

The law was a reflection of an August 2010 voter initiative (Ballot Measure 2) that passed with 55% support. In general, the law says abortion providers must notify parents of girls 17 and younger at least 48 hours before performing an abortion. 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.

The impact was dramatic. 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.

Meanwhile, 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, 2010.

Alaska Supreme Court

Alaska Supreme Court

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,” Lisa Demer of the Anchorage Daily News reported at the time.

But Judge Suddock concluded that “the legal requirement does not violate a teenager’s right to privacy,” Demer wrote. “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.”

Demer noted

“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.”

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.”

At the time of Suddock’s 65-page decision—October 2010—everyone understood the decision would be appealed by pro-abortionists, including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, to the state Supreme Court. The appeal took place in 2013 .