Voter initiative on abortion survives legal challenge

Megan Holland

A Superior Court judge has ruled against Planned Parenthood of Alaska's effort to block a voter initiative that would create a requirement that doctors notify a parent if a girl under 18 wants an abortion.

Judge Frank Pfiffner wrote that while language in the initiative needs to be tweaked, it is valid to be taken to voters. Pfiffner has sent it back to the lieutenant governor's office for drafting of a better summary for voters, according to his opinion issued Tuesday.

The initiative is scheduled to go to voters Aug. 24.

"It's a win-lose," said Clover Simon, vice president of Planned Parenthood of Alaska. She said she is pleased the judge ordered the lieutenant governor to write a new summary for voters.

Currently, no laws restrict anyone of any age from receiving an abortion in Alaska. The initiative would create restrictions. Specifically, initiative sponsors want the doctor performing an abortion to inform a parent at least 48 hours before the procedure. The proposal would not require consent of a parent.

Planned Parenthood of Alaska and others have opposed the initiative, calling it unlawful and an effort to mislead the public to get a narrow abortion law passed.

Teenage abortion laws have a controversial history in Alaska. In 1997, the Alaska Parental Consent Act requiring approval -- not just notification -- was enacted. But it never went into effect because of court challenges and in 2007 the Alaska Supreme Court struck it down.

Among Planned Parenthood's arguments to squash the current initiative was that it resurrected the Parental Consent Act already struck down by the higher court. The court had ruled the act a violation of a girl's privacy.

The judge told the lieutenant governor to make it clear in the revised summary that the proposal would restrict current freedoms. He also wants the summary to mention how the Alaska Supreme Court struck down the Parental Consent Act several years ago.

It must also be clear to voters that the law makes it a felony for a doctor not to inform a parent. A girl can get her doctor to bypass the rule by getting special permission from the Alaska courts. Opponents of the measure say that's an onerous task for a teen.

"Alaskans should celebrate they will now have an opportunity to address this important public policy matter themselves on the August Primary Election," initiative backer Jim Minnery, chair of Alaskans for Parental Rights, said in a prepared statement.

Either side has the option of appealing Pfiffner's ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court. Minnery said he won't but expects Planned Parenthood to do so. Simon said her organization and the other parties, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are still in the process of deciding their next step.

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