Gov. Sarah Palin is backing a ballot measure to bypass the Legislature and make it illegal for teenagers to get an abortion without telling their parents.
The initiative sponsors, including former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, applied last week to start gathering signatures. The measure would generally forbid a girl under 18 from getting an abortion unless the doctor informed at least one of her parents beforehand.
Palin said she plans to be the first in line to sign up. The governor said she even considered sponsoring the initiative herself, but decided otherwise after checking with the state's lawyers.
"I got a preliminary opinion from Law (Department) just giving me a heads up that critics would certainly file an ethics charge against me if I were to sponsor an initiative. So though I maintain I have First Amendment rights just as any other citizen does, I won't flirt with the notion of giving critics more ammunition to keep filing wasteful ethics charges against me, but instead I'll volunteer to be the first signature," Palin said.
The sponsors can start collecting signatures once Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell certifies the ballot language as legal. The goal is to get the initiative on the ballot for the next primary election, which will be in August 2010. That would require the sponsors to gather at least 32,734 signatures before the legislative session starts in January.
The abortion rights group Planned Parenthood will oppose the initiative. Many teens come from unhealthy families and could take dangerous steps to avoid the consequences that would come from facing their parents, said Clover Simon, the Alaska vice president of Planned Parenthood.
"I'm afraid that young women in that situation are going to see this and they're just not going to get any help at all and they are going to take things into their own hand. ... If you Google abortion or self-induced abortion you can get all kinds of bad advice," she said.
The initiative is the result of a bill stalling in the state Senate that would have required girls under 17 to tell their parents they're about to have an abortion.
Palin, a Republican, blamed "inflexibility by some senators" for the bill not passing. She said a young girl should have the counsel of her parents in such a major decision.
But Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bettye Davis, who chairs the Health Committee, said the bill needs more work. Davis said she's going to make an effort on it over the summer and when the Legislature comes back into session next January. Davis said the bill has problematic issues like forcing the teen to wait 48 hours to have the abortion even after telling a parent. The bill requires compromise on both sides, she said.
"If they want to do an initiative they have a right to do that; it might be the way they are going to get it done," Davis said.
Palin said in an e-mail sent through her spokeswoman on Sunday that she expects supporting the initiative will prompt an ethics complaint even though she's not a sponsor.
"I acknowledge the 'new normal' we're dealing with today will no doubt see someone filing a charge against me anyway, for exercising my First Amendment rights as a citizen, but I will not hesitate to speak up in support of Alaska's daughters," she wrote.
State law says that a governor cannot spend money or "provide anything of value" to influence the outcome of a ballot measure unless the Legislature has appropriated money for that purpose. Alaska election regulators are investigating whether Palin violated the law last summer when she said in response to a question at a state press conference that she would vote no on a controversial ballot measure to tighten limits on water pollution discharges from mines.
The prime sponsors of the "parental involvement" initiative are former lieutenant governor Leman, recent Anchorage school board candidate Mia Costello, and Kim Hummer-Minnery, whose husband is president of the Alaska Family Council, a Christian pro-family, anti-abortion group that is supporting the effort.
The initiative would require parental "notice or consent" before a woman under 18 could have an abortion, unless the teen convinced a court otherwise or there was a medical emergency. There would have to be a 48-hour waiting period after the parent is notified -- but that could be waived if the parent gave consent for the abortion.
Jim Minnery, president of the Alaska Family Council, said the ultimate goal is a state law requiring a parent to give permission before a teenage girl can have an abortion. But the Alaska Supreme Court two years ago ruled a parental consent bill unconstitutional on a 3-2 vote, saying it would rob a pregnant teen of her constitutional right to make such an important decision herself and transfers that right to her parents or a judge.
Chief Justice Dana Fabe, in the majority decision for the court, said a law requiring parents to be notified but not necessarily give consent would probably be all right.
Minnery said he doesn't foresee any problem getting the necessary 32,734 signatures.
"It is not an anti-abortion initiative as it will be positioned. It's basically a parental rights initiative," he said.
Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.