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Alaska high court strikes down parental notification law on minors’ abortions

Abortion-rights supporters and opponents alike are wondering what’s next after the Alaska Supreme Court late Friday struck down a state law requiring doctors to notify parents at least two days before performing abortions on girls under 18 years old.

The landmark 4-1 ruling invalidated a law that had been approved by 56 percent of voters in a 2010 election initiative. The majority of justices found the law violates the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection and right to privacy guarantees, and “cannot be enforced.” The equal protection guarantee was violated in that the law was only triggered for pregnant minors who seek abortions, not those who intend to complete their pregnancies.

So-called parental involvement laws — those requiring either consent or notification — are on the rise nationally, but the trend has been gradual until recently. Currently, a total of 38 U.S. states require some type of parental involvement in a daughter’s abortion decision, up from 34 in 2008. However, according to the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), three of those new states came on board the trend in 2015 alone: Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

NARAL noted in its 2016 annual report that some minors feel uncomfortable discussing their abortion wishes with parents, such as in cases of abuse, rape or incest. The organization therefore lobbies against parental notification laws.

“Placing restrictions on a young woman’s access to abortion can delay her from seeking earlier, safer care, thus putting her health at risk,” reads the report.

The Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based organization that tracks and researches abortion laws across the country, said another noticeable trend in recent years has been an increase in the number of minors traveling outside their home states to obtain abortions in states with less-restrictive involvement laws.

Under current laws, 21 states require only parental consent, three of which require both parents’ consent. Twelve states require only notification. Another five states require both consent and notification, while eight states require notarized parental consent documentation.

However, the 38 states that require involvement also have alternative processes for abortion-seeking minors in the form of some type of judicial bypass procedure. The Supreme Court has already ruled that no state can give a parent an absolute veto in a daughter’s decision to have an abortion.

Opponents have already ripped the Alaska ruling, starting with Justice Craig Stowers, who cast the only dissenting vote on the court and argued that proper notification could give parents the chance to help their daughters understand the ramifications of abortion.

"The Alaska Court today trivializes and makes this right of no effect," he wrote.

Likewise, former GOP Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, one of three sponsors of the 2010 initiative, told the Alaska Dispatch News the ruling was “nonsense” and said the justices were living in “never-never land.” 

"Alaskans understand that it makes sense for parents to be involved in the lives of their children," he said.

But Planned Parenthood, which had sued the state over the notification law, sided with NARAL’s view that some young women have no choice but to go through an abortion without their parents' involvement.

"We all want teens to be safe — and the sad truth is that some teens live in dangerous homes and can't go to their parents," Christine Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, said in a statement. "This law would prevent some of Alaska's most vulnerable teens from accessing safe medical care."

Elizabeth Nash, a senior state issues associate at the Guttmacher Institute, told AMI Newswire there was an initial wave of parental notification laws after the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Many of those were struck down and revised, and today Nash said most states that intended to pass such laws already have.
The trend happening now, however, is that a new wave of states are amending their laws again, to avoid obstacles such as in Alaska in an effort to make it more difficult for minors obtain parental consent.
“I would call it a wave,” Nash said. “There are several different states at work on it.”