Alaska Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments On Parental Notification Law

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday in a lawsuit that halted a voter-passed law requiring health care providers to notify parents of minors before performing abortions.

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The legal case centers on privacy grounds and equal protection grounds.

Planned Parenthood attorney Janet Crepps said the law would end up discriminating because it subjects a minor seeking an abortion to a delay that would not be faced by a pregnant minor simply seeking pre-natal care:

“The idea that the state can discriminate among pregnant minors because the health interest of some are more important than others cannot be a legitimate distinction,” Crepps said. “Properly framed, the question is whether the state has a legitimate interest in delaying access to health care for one group while allowing unimpeded access for another, the answer is clearly, ‘no.’”

Crepps said women in those two situations should be considered “similarly situated.” Arguing for the initiative sponsors, attorney Kevin Clarkson said they were not “similarly situated.” The only time a delay would be involved is if a pregnant minor made a choice:

“There is the issue of the choice, you know, once you’re pregnant, you really don’t have a choice to not have a baby other than abortion, so the focal of the law is on the abortion choice, because that’s the choice, once they’re pregnant,” Clarkson said.

Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh told the Supreme Court that the state’s interest justifying the delay was family cohesion.

The judicial bypass provision of the law, which allows minors to get an abortion without the consent of their parents if certain criteria were met, was also a point of contention.

Kevin Clarkson says the clear and convincing evidence standard must be adequately applied, because there is more at stake during the judicial bypass proceeding than the girl’s reproductive freedom.

“It is her parents’ fundamental right to the care, custody and control of their minor daughter,” Clarkson said. “It’s a fundamental right that both the U.S. Supreme Court and this court have recognized. They have absolutely no opportunity to be heard. They don’t even know that they have a reason to be heard because they don’t know it’s taking place.”

“The absolute minimum that we can do in this law is to tell the judge, ‘when you make your decision, be sure.'”

Janet Crepps disagreed, saying that the argument over parental rights was framed incorrectly.

“The parental notice law burdens fundamental rights of minors in order to increase parental involvement. But, parental rights don’t add to that interest,” Crepps said. “They’re not an enforceable right. Mr. Clarkson referred to them as the parents’ fundamental rights being adjudicated, but that is not true.”

The parental notification law was voted into effect through an initiative after a parental consent law was ruled unconstitutional.