Abortion initiative will appear on ballot

FLAWS ADDRESSED: Deficiencies called minor, can be corrected.

June 2, 2010 

The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that an initiative requiring parental notification for girls younger than 18 seeking an abortion will be on the August primary ballot.

Planned Parenthood had argued that more than 36,000 voters who signed the initiative petition failed to receive key information on sign-up sheets, for example that physicians could be charged and imprisoned if they failed to properly inform a parent.

Attorneys for the initiative sponsors and the state argued that flaws in the written summary on the ballot sign-up sheets were minor and could be corrected on the ballot.

The state's highest court agreed, ruling that any ballot deficiencies weren't enough to make initiative sponsors begin the process anew.

"Obviously, we are disappointed with the court's decision," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

The initiative was certified last year by then-Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, who is now governor.

The sponsors of the initiative include former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman and Kim Hummer-Minnery, whose husband Jim is president of the Christian anti-abortion group Alaska Family Council. "We think that Alaskans knew exactly what they were doing when they signed the petition asking for the right to oversee the medical decisions of their minor children. We look forward to Aug. 24," Jim Minnery said.

Lt. Gov. Craig E. Campbell said that the Alaska Supreme Court's ruling preserves a fundamental interest of the people.

"The initiative process is very important to Alaskans because it provides the opportunity for citizens to vote directly on matters that have not been addressed by the Legislature or that have not been addressed to the satisfaction of a significant number of voters. The Supreme Court has maintained its long-held position that initiatives will be preserved whenever possible," Campbell said.

But both the Alaska Supreme Court and the lower court had found the language in the ballot booklet misleading, Mittman said. Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner ordered state officials to write an accurate summary for the ballot.

Rhiannon Good, campaign manager of NO on 2 -- Alaskans Against Government Mandates, said the initiative is a bad way to handle the problem of teenage pregnancy.

Good said the initiative, if successful, would put the government and the courts right in the middle of what are private family matters. She said that while many pregnant teens can and will go to their parents, some can't, including those whose parent or custodian is the one who impregnated the girl.

Good said the initiative would put those extremely vulnerable teens at risk.

Under the proposed language, physicians must personally call parents up to five times in two-hour increments during a 24-hour period, or to verify with two pieces of identification that the guardians were who they claimed to be.

Physicians could face penalties up of to five years in prison if they did not follow the law.

In 2007, the state Supreme Court struck down the Parental Consent Act, which prohibited doctors from performing an abortion on an unmarried girl younger than 17 without parental consent or judicial authorization.

The court found the statute violated a minor's constitutional right to privacy. It determined, however, that the Alaska Constitution would permit a statutory scheme ensuring that parents are notified.

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