Friday the Alaska Supreme Court overturned the state’s parental notification law for minors seeking abortions. The 2010 voter-passed initiative required an unmarried woman under 18 who wanted to terminate her pregnancy to notify her parents 48 hours before the procedure. A woman could go to court and ask a judge for an exception, but would have to prove she was either mature enough to make the decision on their own, or that she was being abused. The court deemed the law unconstitutional.
In the opinion, Justice Daniel Winfree wrote that the notification law violates the equal protection clause of the state’s constitution. Three justices agreed with that decision, but for different reasons. They argued it violates the privacy clause.
Laura Einstein is chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, one of the plaintiffs in the case. She said that they are gratified by the decision.
The organization knows anecdotally that most underage women do involve their parents when making these decisions, she said, but there’s a smaller group of women who can’t.
“The group that we were most concerned about protecting were the ones for whom notifying a parent was risky to their family situation either because it was an abusive household, it was an unsupportive household, [or] it was a place where there was substance abuse.”
The only dissenting justice was Craig Stowers, who wrote that a judicial bypass was a “negligible hurdle” for young women since they would be provided with free legal counsel and could be excused from school for a hearing.
But Einstein with Planned Parenthood says those measures represent is a significant barrier. “At trial we produced a lot of testimony about what an onerous, daunting, intimidating, and time consuming option that is.”
Einstein said even if a woman went to court and the judge excused her from school, her parents would still be notified that she was absent.
Anchorage Republican Senator Mia Costello was one of the sponsors of the ballot initiative before she was elected to public office and said she’s disappointed in the ruling.
“As a parent and as an Alaskan and as an American, I think that we’re at a time right now where parental involvement and parental rights should be strengthened in our society rather than diminished.”
She said it’s a wakeup call for parents to be more involved with their children’s lives.
Costello said she will not pursue a similar bill in the next legislative session because she wants to focus on the state’s fiscal problems.