Alaskans on Tuesday approved a controversial voter initiative requiring parents to be notified before their teen age 17 and younger receives an abortion.
Ballot Measure 2 was one of the most fiercely contested items in the primary election, with total spending by both sides combined nearing $1 million.
Tuesday's vote marks the first time Alaska voters confronted the abortion issue at the polls.
Under the new law, a teen will be able to get around the requirement that her parents be notified if she appears before a judge or provides the doctor notarized statements attesting to abuse at home.
The law approved by voters gives doctors the job of notifying the parent. A doctor who failed to do that could be hit with felony charges and a prison sentence of up to five years.
Thirty-four states already require parental involvement -- either consent or notification -- before teens can get an abortion.
Supporters won over voters with the argument that parents have the right to know if their minor daughter undergoes an abortion. It's a potentially risky medical procedure, and parents need to be informed in case of physical complications or depression, said initiative backers.
"I think that Alaskan parents are concerned. They want to be there for their girls and they want to be there even when the going gets tough," said Bernadette Wilson, campaign manager for Alaskans for Parental Rights, the vote "yes" side.. "And I think we sent the message loud and clear that we want to care for these girls, even those girls who come from unhealthy home environments."
Opponents had argued that the government can't mandate communication in families. Girls from troubled homes might end up getting a riskier, late-term abortion or having a baby they don't want rather than go to their parents or a judge, opponents said.
Both sides were campaigning furiously in the days leading up to the election. Volunteers were working phones, waving signs and walking neighborhoods.
"We are going to be there and open tomorrow for teens no matter what happens in this election," said Chris Charbonneau, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, the biggest abortion provider in Alaska.
Teens might not understand the ballot measure and might wrongly assume they no longer have the right to an abortion at all.
"They still have all the rights they had before," Charbonneau said. "We don't want anyone to do anything drastic or take matters into their own hands in a way that could be life threatening or destructive."
The measure amounts to a severe restriction on abortion in Alaska, she said.
She attributed the voting trend to conservatives who came to the polls to vote for Republican U.S. Senate challenger Joe Miller, a tea party candidate who was running a close race for U.S. Senate against incumbent Lisa Murkowski.
Most teens already involve a parent or other trusted adult before getting an abortion, pro-choice advocates say.
The new law will take effect 90 days after the election is certified. Assuming certification happens in mid-September, it will be in force in mid-December.
State health officials intend to form an internal work group to determine what, if anything, the state needs to do implement the new requirements.
As of the latest campaign disclosure reports, the group trying to defeat Measure 2, Alaskans Against Government Mandates, had raised more than $800,000, five times as much as supporters. Much of that money came from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization, was the biggest financial supporter of the measure. But some individuals were contributing large amounts almost right up until Election Day, Wilson said. Mike Pauley, an Eagle River resident, gave $20,000, according to the group's most recent report to the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Last year in Alaska, 125 teens under 18 received an abortion, according to state statistics.
In 1997, the state Legislature passed a law that said teens had to get the consent of a parent or approval from a judge before getting an abortion.
But court challenges prevented the law from taking effect and in 2007, the state Supreme Court struck it down 3-2, saying teens had a constitutional right to make such an important decision themselves. The court left the door open for a law requiring parents to be notified.
The measure's opponents said they will look into the possibility of another court challenge.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER