Court hears arguments on parental-consent abortion law

Posted: Tuesday, January 07, 2003

ANCHORAGE - A state Superior Court judge in Anchorage has begun hearing arguments in a case challenging a state abortion law that requires girls under 17 to get a parent's permission for an abortion.

The law, passed by the Legislature in 1997, makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion on a minor without permission from a parent or judge.

The law was immediately challenged by Planned Parenthood and has been put on hold, pending the outcome of the court case.

In 1998, Judge Sen Tan ruled that the law was unconstitutional. Tan said all Alaskans have an equal right to make personal decisions. He noted that a pregnant teen who chooses to have a baby has a legal right to make treatment and birth decisions without a parent's consent. Tan said pregnant teens who choose not to give birth must have the same rights.

Because the issue was not abortion but a strictly legal question of equal rights, no trial was necessary, Tan concluded.

The state, which was required to defend the law even though Gov. Tony Knowles had vetoed it, persuaded the Alaska Supreme Court to reverse Tan's summary judgment and order a trial.

So now Tan will listen to three weeks of testimony that supporters of the law hope will change his mind. They argue that teenagers are not mature enough to assess medical risks or make an abortion decision.

In arguments Monday, Dr. Susan Lemagie, a member of the Planned Parenthood board and a Palmer gynecologist who performs abortions, said parental-consent laws are a major obstacle to efforts to treat teenagers. Teens are reluctant to see a doctor for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases if they know their parents have to be told, she said.

Lemagie said she strongly urges her pregnant teenage patients to tell a parent and they often do. But some parents are abusive and some minors show up with a supportive adult who is not a parent. The law should allow this, she told the judge.

Most abortions are "relatively simple, straightforward procedures" and teenagers are mature enough to understand the medical choices and risks, Lemagie said.

Planned Parenthood is being represented by Janet Krepp, an attorney from the national organization.

The two state lawyers defending the law are now both retired. Harry Davis, former Fairbanks district attorney, and James "Pat" Doogan, an assistant district attorney. Davis and Doogan ended up with the case after then-Attorney General Bruce Botelho said he and others normally assigned to defend challenged laws agreed with Planned Parenthood that it was indeed unconstitutional.

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