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Judge orders a full hearing over abortion notification law

Mary Pemberton

Opponents of a new state law requiring that parents be notified when their daughters seek to get abortions will have a chance to present full arguments at a hearing challenging some provisions of the law.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock on Friday rejected the state's attempt to have certain issues tossed from the case to be heard Feb. 13. He said while the state's arguments were correct "in a sense," there also was Alaska's judicial system to consider.

That system, he said, "is strongly imbued with the principle that each party is entitled to its day in court and to the opportunity to present facts it deems significant."

Alaska voters approved the law in August 2010. It requires that girls under the age of 18 notify their parents or guardians before they have an abortion. Doctors could be punished for not making the notification.

Planned Parenthood sued but Suddock in December let the law stand, with revisions: He removed provisions calling for a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to five years for people who violate the law. He also struck a section allowing physicians to be liable for damages.

Planned Parenthood has continued its legal challenge, arguing last month before Suddock that language in the law is vague, that a 48-hour waiting period is too long and that girls living in rural areas will be discriminated against because there is less access to the judicial system.

The state countered that the parental notification law does not violate Alaska's law of equal protection by treating minor men and women differently regarding access to reproductive health care. They also argued that it did not put girls living in rural areas at a disadvantage.

"Alaska presents atypical challenges to any notification regime," Suddock said in his written opinion. "It is vast, villages are remote, rural populations may more fluidly delegate child-raring responsibilities than urban ones, and language and cultural barriers to candid disclosure to strangers may impact the availability of reliable data."

Both sides asked for partial summary judgment, which Suddock refused, saying the issues need to be addressed in an evidentiary hearing. KTUU first reported the judge's decision. Both sides expect the case to end up in the Alaska Supreme Court.

"We had hoped to narrow the issues in the case before trial, but we are ready to proceed with a full hearing of all the claims presented by the plaintiffs," Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh said in an email to The Associated Press on Monday. "We are confident that the Parental Notification Law is constitutional and that the evidence at trial will demonstrate that."

Kim McClintock, a Planned Parenthood field organizer in Anchorage, said the parental notification law is treating minors who choose to terminate a pregnancy differently than those who choose to remain pregnant.

She said while the organization encourages pregnant minors to get their parents involved, sometimes that is not the best course.

"If they believe they can't involve a parent, we believe they must have a good reason," McClintock said.


By MARY PEMBERTON
Associated Press