Alaska Supreme Court|Tosses Abortion Law

ANCHORAGE (CN) — The Alaska Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a state law requiring physicians to notify a parent, guardian or custodian when a minor seeks an abortion.
     The decision comes less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck a Texas law, in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt, that put undue burdens on women who seek abortions.
     The Alaska Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the parental notification requirement was not severable from the law, and that it violated the state constitution’s guarantee of “the fundamental right to privacy and its requirement that any burden on that right must be the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest.”
     Alaska’s 2010 parental notification law, approved by 56 percent of voters in an initiative, required an unmarried woman younger than 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 mature enough to make the decision on her own, or that she was being abused.
     Writing for the court, Justice Daniel Winfree also founds that the law violates the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee, and cannot be enforced.
     Alaska’s equal protection guarantee requires “equal treatment of those similarly situated” and “our equal protection analysis applied to the extent the notification law “‘treats minors opting to carry to term differently than minors opting to abort,'” Winfree wrote.
     He concluded that “vindicating the State’s compelling interest in encouraging parental involvement in minors’ pregnancy-related decisions” does not support the notification law’s unequal treatment of the two classes of pregnant minors.
     “We have said that ‘it is the right and duty, privilege and burden, of all parents to involve themselves in their children’s lives; to provide their children with emotional, physical, and material support; and to instill in their children “moral standards, religious beliefs, and elements of good citizenship,”‘” Winfree wrote, citing Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 233 (1972).
     “But as the State acknowledged at oral argument, this must be true for all pregnant minors’ parents, not just those whose daughters are considering termination.”
     Three justices joined Winfree in part. Justice Dana Fabe wrote a concurrent opinion for herself and Justices Peter Maasen and Joel Bolger, finding that the law violates the state constitution’s privacy clause.
     Laura Einstein, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and a plaintiff in the case, applauded the decision.
     She said the court acknowledged that “evidence shows that most young women seeking an abortion involve a parent, but some young women live in an abusive home, or a home where it would not be safe to disclose a pregnancy.”
     Planned Parenthood said the law created a significant barrier for young women. “At trial we produced a lot of testimony about what an onerous, daunting, intimidating, and time-consuming option that is,” Einstein said in a statement.
     But writing in dissent, Justice Craig Stowers called it “an almost negligible hurdle” due to the “mature and well-informed” language in the law. He noted that young women would be provided with free legal counsel and could be excused from school for a hearing.
     Einstein disagreed, saying that even if a woman went to court and the judge excused her from school, her parents would still be notified that she was absent.
     State Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, one of the sponsors of the 2010 ballot initiative before she was elected to the Legislature, told Alaska Public Media she was disappointed by the ruling, which she said should serve as a wakeup call for parents to be more involved with their children’s lives.
     “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,” Costello said.
     She said, however, that she will not pursue a similar bill in the next legislative session because of the need to focus on the Alaska’s fiscal problems.
     The plaintiffs were represented by attorneys from Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

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