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Alaska's Parent-Notification Abortion Law Ruled Unconstitutional

The Alaska Supreme Court has invalidated the state law requiring physicians to give two days notice to parents before performing abortions on girls under 18 years old.

By Nathaniel Herz

The Alaska Supreme Court has invalidated the state law requiring physicians to give two days notice to parents before performing abortions on girls under 18 years old.

The parental notification law was approved by 56 percent of voters in a 2010 citizens initiative, with sponsors including Mia Costello, now an Anchorage Republican senator.

But the law violates the Alaska Constitution's equal protection guarantee "and cannot be enforced," the Supreme Court said in a 43-page ruling Friday from Justice Daniel Winfree.

The law, Winfree's decision said, 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.

"The notification law is under-inclusive because the governmental interests asserted in this case are implicated for all pregnant minors -- as they face reproductive choices and as they live with their decisions -- and the asserted justifications for disparate treatment based upon a minor's actual reproductive choice are unconvincing," Winfree wrote.

The decision was 4 to 1, with Justice Craig Stowers, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, dissenting.

Three of the justices, in a concurrent opinion by Justice Dana Fabe, also found that the parental notification law violates the state Constitution's right to privacy.

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, one of the three 2010 initiative sponsors along with Costello and Kim Hummer-Minnery, rejected the court's rationale for its decision. He said in a phone interview Friday that the Supreme Court's justification of its ruling on equal-protection grounds was "nonsense" written by people in "never-never land."

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

Leman said he's interested in pursuing a constitutional amendment that could address the problems with the notification law identified by the Supreme Court. But amendments can only be proposed through a constitutional convention or with a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate, and anti-abortion advocates have recently criticized the Republican-led House's reticence to take up their cause.

Planned Parenthood, which challenged the notification law, applauded Friday's ruling.

"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 prepared statement. "This law would prevent some of Alaska's most vulnerable teens from accessing safe medical care."

(c)2016 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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