Anchorage – An Alaska Superior Court Judge has found that a law requiring physicians to notify a parent, guardian or custodian that a minor seeks to have an abortion is constitutional.
Judge John Suddock found that the Alaska Supreme Court had previously stated that the Alaska Constitution would permit a parental notice law.
The law was challenged by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, along with the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of physicians Jan Whitefield and Susan Lemagie. Superior Court Judge John Suddock heard evidence regarding the constitutionality of the law during a three week trial in February. Judge Suddock concluded that the law does not place unfair burdens on minors who decide to terminate a pregnancy, compared to minors who opt to continue a pregnancy. The Court did, however, conclude that certain requirements of the law are unnecessarily burdensome, and permanently enjoined them, including provisions that would have subjected physicians to unlimited civil liability, required teens requesting a judicial bypass of the notification requirement p meet a higher standard of proof than that required in most civil cases, and permitted only physicians, and not other qualified personnel, to provide the notice.
“The Superior Court’s decision denies one group of teens – those seeking abortions – the equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Alaska Constitution, ,” said Janet Crepps, Senior Counsel in the U.S. legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Rather than interfering with teens’ right to make reproductive decisions, the state should provide better access to health care and education on how to avoid unintended pregnancies.”
The evidence in Alaska shows that most young women seeking an abortion involve a parent. But many young women live in an abusive home, or a home where it would not be safe to disclose a pregnancy. These young women are required to go through a complicated legal process and persuade a judge they may have an abortion without parental involvement.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Judge ruled against Alaska’s most vulnerable teens. At Planned Parenthood we always encourage our patients to involve their parents in their pregnancy decisions,” said Christine Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest. “However, not all teens live in caring and loving homes. Some young women just can’t go to their parents or guardians. Today’s decision appears to acknowledge the vulnerability of some teens, but still requires them to go through legal hoops to access constitutionally protected reproductive health care services.”
“This law ignores the fact that for some pregnant teens, parent involvement or seeking the consent of a judge just isn’t a realistic option,” said Andrew Beck, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “This is especially true in a state as large as Alaska, where a teen may have to travel long distances and take time away from school to attend a judicial hearing.”
Planned Parenthood and the individual doctors are represented by Planned Parenthood counsel Laura Einstein, Janet Crepps and Stephanie Toti of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Andrew Beck of the ACLU, and the law firm of Feldman, Orlansky & Sanders.
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest is the region’s leading sexual and reproductive health care provider and advocate. We believe everyone has the right to choose when or whether to have a child, and that every child should be wanted and loved. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest operates 28 health centers in Alaska, Idaho, and western Washington, providing medical services and sexuality education for thousands of women, men, and teenagers each year. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. We rely heavily on support from donors to help sustain responsible reproduction.