Court to hear challenge to parental abortion notification

ABORTION: Lawyer says measure misleads public, should be thrown out.

February 23, 2010 

A ballot initiative aiming to change Alaska law so that doctors performing abortions on girls under 18 would have to notify a parent is being challenged in state court today.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Jeff Feldman on behalf of clients that include Planned Parenthood of Alaska, says the lieutenant governor should not have validated the initiative scheduled to go before voters this August.

Currently, there are no laws in Alaska restricting a girl from getting an abortion. But backers of the initiative, including former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, want that to change.

The lawsuit being argued in Superior Court today says the initiative should be thrown out because it misleads the public and is technically unlawful. It is the opposition's first move in what is likely to be a series of attempts to kill the measure.

"While we support minors making these decisions with their parents, we just don't think that, practically, that you can mandate good family communications," said Laura Einstein, legal director for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, in a phone interview.

Mia Costello said she's backing the initiative because she's watched the state Legislature struggle with the issue for years and believes it's one that voters should weigh in on. Costello, who works with at-risk youth, said she is confident the part of the law that would allow girls who can't talk to their parents to go to the courts instead would ensure girls are not put at risk. "It gives parents a voice ... on a very important decision," she said.

The initiative proposes the doctor notify a parent. To be sure the parent is who he or she says, the doctor would be required to verify the parent's identity with government-issued identification, and see documentation verifying parentage or guardianship. If a doctor can't reach a parent, the physician must "continue to initiate the call, in not less than two-hour increments, for not less than five attempts in a 24-hour period," according to the initiative.

Feldman said he thinks the specifics are onerous. "I would say these requirements are cynically drafted to try to frustrate the likelihood that anyone will be able to obtain the necessary notice," he said.

If a physician doesn't comply with the law, he or she would face a felony charge.

Alaska has a contentious history with teenage abortion laws. In 1997, the Alaska Parental Consent Act was enacted requiring parent consent -- not just notification -- for girls under 17 to get an abortion. But the law never went into effect because it was challenged in court, and in 2007 the Alaska Supreme Court struck it down, calling it unconstitutional.

Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland or call 257-4343.

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