Kentucky Court: Who Leaked Decision OKing Secret Teen Abortions?

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 29, 2011   |   7:21PM   |   Frankfort, KY

The Kentucky Court of Appeals is not happy that a decision it issued earlier this year — allowing teens from another state to obtain abortions in the Bluegrass State without abortion practitioners notifying their parents — became public.

The much-maligned 2-1 decision was supposed to stay private, but it became public and it saw the court say it felt obligated to make the decision despite “significant reservations” about allowing Kentucky judges to essentially keep parents from 49 other states in the dark about whether or not their teenage daughter can travel to Kentucky for a secret abortion.

The appeals court reversed Jefferson District Court Judge David Bowles, who ruled he did not have proper jurisdiction to consider whether an Indiana girl had the right to get a secret abortion with a Kentucky judge’s permission, using the judicial bypass provision in the state’s parental notification law that the Supreme Court currently requires.

The Courier-Journal newspaper obtained a copy of the decision and indicated Bebe Anderson, senior counsel for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights supported the decision, as did Derek Selznick, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU of Kentucky.

Now, the chief judge of the court has asked the Kentucky state police to investigate who leaked the supposedly confidential ruling to The Courier-Journal and whether the leak violated state law. Detective Vincent Schmitt of the state police, according to the newspaper, asked it to reveal its source. But, a reporter and the newspaper’s executive editor, Bennie Ivory, refused to do so and cited the state’s reporter shield law protecting the identity of anonymous sources.

The newspaper reports that not every judge on the appeals court supported the move by Chief Judge Jeff Taylor, who wrote the majority opinion in the secret abortion case.

“My view, frankly, was that I didn’t think a criminal investigation was warranted,” Judge Denise Clayton of Louisville told the Louisville paper.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. told the paper he thought the matter had been resolved internally as the Court of Appeals previously held a hearing with newspaper officials and the attorneys in the case, who were all sworn under oath to declare whether they had released the opinion publicly.

Mike Janovic, assistant director of the Kentucky Right to Life Association, told the newspaper that he is working with state legislators on a bill to close the loophole and disallow girls from other states from getting bypass hearings in Kentucky. He said, “The more we know about the issue of protecting human life the better,” when asking about the opinion being made public.

At the time of the decision,

Margie Montgomery, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, told the newspaper she is worried Kentucky could become a haven for teen girls seeking to escape telling their parents about their pregnancy and abortion. She said she was surprised to hear the bypass provision didn’t already limit it to Kentucky residents and said she would work with the state legislature to fix the problem.

Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council also condemned the decision.

“In a 2-1 ruling last week two Kentucky judges decided that young girls from other states may ask Kentucky judges to give them permission to have abortions without their parents’ knowledge or consent.  This means if a young girl in Indiana wants to avoid getting her parents permission, which is required by law in that state, they can go judge shopping in Kentucky for a judge who will allow her to abort her unborn child and her parents need never know,” he said.

McClusky says the decision makes it more important for Congress to pass a bill like the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act that prohibits taking a minor girl to another state for a secret abortion that violates the parental involvement laws of her home state.

“Another avenue the 111th Congress needs to pursue is passing legislation requiring parental notification. The problem is that many abortion clinics lure young girls from their home states that have parental notice laws to states where they can get abortions without their parents knowing,” he explained. “Often the man who gets a young girl pregnant takes her to the clinic. To counter this type of human trafficking they should reintroduce the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act.”

Chief Judge Jeff Taylor of Owensboro and Judge Michelle Keller of Covington were in the majority and they admitted to the judge shopping that concerns McClusky. But they said Kentucky’s law makes it so “every minor” gets the bypass and that the law does not place any limits on it to Kentucky residents only. They said the Supreme Court makes it so states can’t prohibit non-residents from obtaining abortions.

Judge Joy Moore of Burlington said Kentucky judges have no “business making any decisions regarding a minor from another state seeking an abortion without parental consent.”

She cited as her basis for rejecting the claims that Kentucky’s abortion laws say “it is in the interest of the people of the commonwealth that every precaution be taken to insure the protection of every viable unborn child being aborted.”