Gov. Sarah Palin on Thursday threw her support behind a controversial bill that would generally require parental consent before girls under age 17 could get an abortion.
She called a press conference Thursday and surrounded by a dozen lawmakers including state Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, and Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, said:
"Wherever you fall on the abortion issue, right or left, this legislation is about family, and it's about parents' rights and protecting our children, and it's supported by legislators on both sides of the aisle."
She said she's throwing her support behind Coghill's House Bill 35, which backers are calling "parents' rights" legislation.
The measure may have trouble in the state Senate, where Senate President Gary Stevens said months ago that "far left and far right issues" would be off the table for his coalition of Democrats and Republicans.
Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he would give the bill a hearing. He hasn't yet analyzed it. Last year a similar bill died in his committee.
"My main concern is and has been that we pass bills that are constitutional," French said in an e-mail.
If the bill does pass, opponents promise to challenge it in court.
"The bottom line is that our Alaska state Constitution is pretty clear about a woman having the right to choose if she wants to have an abortion or not and the state constitution hasn't changed," said Clover Simon, Alaska vice president of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.
It's not clear how many abortions are done now for teenagers without a parent's OK.
Last year at Planned Parenthood's Anchorage clinic, 18 girls age 16 or younger got abortions, Simon said. All but four had parents involved, she said.
The organization provides 40 to 50 percent of the abortions in Alaska. It also offers birth control and sex education, but parents rarely bring in teens for those services, she said.
According to state statistics, there were 1,759 abortions in Alaska in 2008. Abortions were performed on 141 teens under age 18, according to the annual state report. The report doesn't specify how many were under 17, the group affected by the bill. And the state doesn't collect information on whether parents of teens were involved.
In 2007 the Supreme Court ruled a similar bill unconstitutional on a 3-2 vote. That bill passed the Legislature in 1997 and became law over then-Gov. Tony Knowles' veto. Dana Fabe, who wrote the high court's majority opinion in 2007, is now the court's chief justice.
Palin, who has made one Supreme Court appointment and is about to make a second, says it might be different now.
"Thankfully we know we can think optimistically about a court perhaps changing its mind, changing its opinion. Courts revisit their decisions all the time and if they did not, then we would still be in a society that allows segregated schools," said Palin.
Coghill, one of Alaska's most outspoken anti-abortion lawmakers, said his bill is different from the overturned law.
For instance, the new version says that abortions cannot generally be performed on girls under 17 "without notice to and the consent of a parent, guardian or custodian."
If this measure passes and then is challenged as promised, the Supreme Court could strike down the requirement for consent, but leave in the requirement for notice, meaning that parents would have to be told about the abortion but wouldn't have to give an OK, Coghill said.
The law rejected by the Supreme Court didn't mention notice to parents, so that wasn't an option.
The new version has a provision for teens to go to court to bypass the requirement for parental permission. The overturned law had a bypass mechanism as well, but Coghill said it's been tweaked to make it easier.
Teens who are on their own or married also don't have to get a parent's permission, under the measure. "In every area of life we say, 'You want an aspirin, you want to go on a field trip, you need parental consent to do this.' This is the only area, because of the constitutional struggle, that we come down to where the parent has no right," Coghill said. "I so disagree with that."
Sen. Olson, who is a medical doctor, said someone should give informed consent for even the simplest of medical procedures "whether they are taking off a wart or going ahead and cutting into a boil" because the situation can become risky quickly.
Palin said when her son, Track, dislocated his shoulder playing hockey a couple of years ago, he couldn't get any treatment or even a drink of water until she got to the emergency room.
"Here he's a 17-year-old boy not being able to get a cup of water without Mom or Dad being there to say yeah, it's OK, you've notified me,' " Palin said.
Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, said if the Legislature doesn't pass the bill, he expects someone to push a citizen's initiative for parental consent.
Palin, an anti-abortion Republican who won praise from crusaders like Phyllis Schlafly during her bid for vice president, didn't pressure legislators last year to go forward, even when the abortion bill stalled in French's committee. Now it's a new Legislature and Palin appears ready for the battle.
"It's not right, it's not fair to Alaskans to have a wedge driven between children and parents," the governor said.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390. The Associated Press contributed to this story.