Alaska Governor Wants Court to Reconsider Teen Abortion Law

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 28, 2010   |   1:06PM   |   Juneau, AK

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell asked a court last week to reconsider its decision from earlier this month to severely weaken a parental notification law.

Superior Court Judge John Suddock let the law voters approved in August stand but weakened it to the point that pro-life groups say it is now ineffective.

He said abortion practitioners should not face prison sentences for failing to comply with it. He also removed a section allowing parents to file a civil lawsuit against abortion practitioners who don’t comply seeking financial damages.

The law calls for a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to five years when abortion practitioners keep parents out of their daughter’s abortion.

In an effort to reinstate key parts of the Parental Notification Act Initiative, Parnell’s office announced the State of Alaska filed a motion to reconsider and complained about the striking of the penalties and the application of a higher “clear and convincing” standard of proof in court proceedings. That could result in an order allowing a minor to get an abortion without parental notice, Parnell said.

“One of the most critical duties of the Department of Law is to defend validly enacted laws,” he said.  “And that includes, in this instance, the rights and responsibilities of parents to know and have the chance to discuss medical procedures such as abortion with their children. I will continue to work to ensure that Alaska’s families are represented and that the law truly reflects the will of the people.”

Attorney General John Burns added: “Eliminating the consequences of the violation has the potential for lessening the effectiveness of the statute.”

“Likewise, requiring a judge to make findings under a higher standard of proof before allowing a pregnant child to obtain an abortion through a process where parents do not even get notice or an opportunity to be heard protects parents’ rights, as well as the minor’s rights. The Department of Law has presented strong arguments for letting these key parts of the initiative stand as passed by voters,” he said.

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and two abortion practitioners filed suit against the measure claiming it violates the rights of minor girls even though it provides them with parental support during a difficult situation. Planned Parenthood claims the law violates the privacy of the girls — but it says nothing of the parents who would be kept in the dark about their teen girls and who would have to pay for medical expenses related to potential botched abortions.

Jim Minnery with the Alaska Family Council panned the decision saying it makes the law worthless because abortion practitioners won’t be held accountable for failing to notify a girl’s parents.

“What’s the incentive for a physician? It’s basically a suggestion.  It’s an Alaska State Suggestion now, under the judge,” he said.

Minnery also said Suddock’s decision is at odds with rulings on the federal level.

“Parental involvement laws have been upheld by the United States Supreme Court on 9 separate occasions, the last one being a 9-0 decision.

Judge Suddock also revised the language of the law to weaken the notification element — making it so a “designee” of an abortion practitioner can also notify parents, legal guardians or custodians of a minor girl.

Clover Simon, the Vice President of Planned Parenthood in Alaska, told KTUU the abortion giant is “pleased that the judge gave a partial injunction.  He obviously felt responsibility to let the law go forward if he could.” Even though the judge issued an injunction, she says her group will pursue the case further to get the law overturned entirely.

The law, which voters approved in August, took effect earlier this month. With 84 percent of the vote counted, 70,503 Alaskans voted for Measure 2 while 56,354 voted against it. That had parental notification winning on a 55.5 to 44.4 percent margin.

“I think that Alaskan parents are concerned. They want to be there for their girls and they want to be there even when the going gets tough,” said Bernadette Wilson, campaign manager for Alaskans for Parental Rights after the vote. “And I think we sent the message loud and clear that we want to care for these girls, even those girls who come from unhealthy home environments.”

Just one day later, Alaska Planned Parenthood created a web site to push teens into abortions using the judicial bypass provision.

The lawsuit also claims teens who want to have an abortion are treated differently from those who want to keep their baby and it makes the claim the law violates equal protection standards. Alaskans for Parental Rights spearheaded the effort while the ACLU joined Planned Parenthood in opposing it.

With the vote, Alaska became the 37th state to require parental involvement before a minor can have an abortion.

In 2004, Americans United for Life filed an amicus brief in the Alaska Supreme Court in support of an earlier parental consent law that was ultimately struck down. The state’s high court left the door open to considering a parental notification law constitutional — plus the makeup of the court has changed with opponents of the previous consent law no longer members of it.

Chief Justice Dana Fabe voted against the parental consent law in 2007 but said in the majority opinion: “Contrary to the arguments of Planned Parenthood, we determine that the constitution permits a statutory scheme which ensures that parents are notified so that they can be engaged in their daughters’ important decisions in these matters.”

Justices Robert Eastaugh and Alexander Bryner, who voted against the consent law, have left the court.

As a result, this current court challenge may fail if it makes it to the high court.