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Judge Upholds Constitutionality of Alaska Parental Notification Law

Judge Upholds Constitutionality of Alaska Parental Notification Law

October 10, 2012 — Alaska Superior Court Judge John Suddock on Monday upheld a state law requiring doctors to notify parents if a minor seeks an abortion, but he eliminated a provision related to civil liabilities for doctors and modified the judicial bypass requirements for minors who cannot involve their parents in their abortion decisions, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Bohrer, AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/9).

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law after it was approved through a ballot initiative in 2010. The groups argued that the law infringes on the due process rights of minors and abortion providers, as well as the privacy rights of minors (Rosen, Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 10/9).

Judicial Bypass, Penalties Provisions

Although Suddock upheld the law as constitutional, he struck down the standard of "clear and convincing evidence" in order for a judge to grant a minor an exemption from the law's requirements (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/9).

In his ruling, he said the law would likely have a negligible effect on parental involvement in teenagers' lives. The majority of parents who were aware of their daughter's decision to obtain an abortion were supportive, while only 6% of parents "cause serious problems for their daughters," according to Suddock. In these cases, teens would be able to seek a judicial bypass, although the process was "admittedly daunting," Suddock said.

Although Suddock struck down the provision that would have allowed physicians to be held liable for damages, he reinstated a provision that imposes criminal fines of up to $1,000 and five years in jail for providers who knowing violate the law.

Reaction

Andrew Beck, staff attorney for ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement, "This law ignores the fact that for some pregnant teens, parental involvement o[r] seeking the consent of a judge just isn't a realistic option." He added, "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."

Assistant Alaska Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh said that while most minors who choose to have an abortion are accompanied by their parents, the law includes protections for minors who cannot disclose their pregnancy for "very good reasons" (Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 10/9).