ANCHORAGE - People answering the phone at Planned Parenthood offices in Alaska flouted sexual-abuse reporting laws and in one case urged a caller to lie about her boyfriend's age to help him avoid prosecution, according to defense testimony offered Wednesday in a trial challenging the state's parental-consent law.
Now in its third week, the trial pits Planned Parenthood of Alaska against a state law that requires unmarried girls younger than 17 to get a parent's or judge's permission to have an abortion.
The state is defending the law, which has been on hold since 1997 pending outcome of the suit.
Testifying by phone, Ed Zilenski of Life Dynamics, an anti-abortion group in Denton, Texas, said his outfit did a phone sting early last year by calling Planned Parenthood offices and some abortion providers across the country. A woman hired by the organization posed as a pregnant 13-year-old who wanted an abortion but didn't want her parents to know.
Life Dynamics called Planned Parenthood offices in Anchorage, Sitka and Soldotna, plus the Alaska Women's Health Service in Anchorage.
The "girl" spoke to whoever answered the phone. She told each call-taker she wasn't sure if she was pregnant and described the man who got her pregnant as a 22-year-old boyfriend. In Alaska, this is automatically statutory rape.
The calls were monitored and taped, Zilenski said.
According to transcripts admitted Wednesday, call-takers at three of the four places called noted the difference in age but assured the girl no one need be told.
The call-taker at Planned Parenthood in Anchorage did not comment on the man's age and stuck to assuring the girl she would not need parental consent for birth control or an abortion.
The call-taker at Women's Health Service asked if the relationship "was an issue of rape." Told by the girl that she and the man were in love and going to get married, the call-taker said no report would be made because "it's your business."
The call-taker at Planned Parenthood in Sitka told the girl her boyfriend was "way out of bounds. ... I mean, legally he's taking advantage of a minor."
Later in the conversation, the girl asked if "you're sure that nobody has to know about my boyfriend?"
"I'm sure no one has to know about your boyfriend," the call-taker said. "That's your choice."
Under Alaska law, health care practitioners such as doctors and nurses, plus teachers, counselors and a whole list of other professionals must report sex between a minor and an adult if it comes to their attention. To fail to do so is a misdemeanor.
In three of the calls recorded by Life Dynamics, the call-takers apparently were not care-providers.
"A receptionist at a clinic is not a mandatory reporter," said Janet Crepps, an attorney representing Planned Parenthood at the trial.
However, the call-taker at Planned Parenthood in Soldotna identified herself as a nurse practitioner and told the girl to lie about her boyfriend's age:
"It's kind of an illegal thing for a boy who's over 21 to have sex with a girl. ... It's called statutory rape," the Soldotna call-taker said.
"Are you going to tell on him?" the girl asked.
"No, I won't. But maybe when you go to the doctor you shouldn't tell them how old your boyfriend is. ... Just, you know, maybe have a girlfriend come with you and tell them your boyfriend is 16 or something, because he could get in a lot of trouble."
None of the call-takers knew the girl's name or the man's name. All offered to refer or make an appointment for the girl. None attempted to get identifying information.
The Soldotna call-taker told the girl it would be better if she told her parents.
In Juneau, armed with a copy of the transcripts, Sen. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican, held a press conference and accused the call-takers of "deliberate skirting of Alaska law on reporting of statutory rape."
Failure to report these illegal sexual relationships is "virtually enabling exploitative activity," Dyson said.
Crepps, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, said the organization's policy is to obey whatever the law is in each state.
Attorney Kevin Clarkson, one of the lawyers defending the parental-consent law, said the calls demonstrate that people providing abortion services do not act in the best interest of a child who comes to them on her own.
"They say we don't need parental-consent laws because these girls are in good hands," Clarkson said.
"We found out that, in fact, these facilities don't attempt to take care of these young girls. ... If they were, they would be reporting the sex crime that's being committed against her and taking action to protect her from further exploitation."
In cases where parents are abusive or otherwise unsupportive, the law says a pregnant girl can get a judge to overrule them, Clarkson said.
The testimony portion of the trial is scheduled to finish today.
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