A legal battle over a parent's right to decide if their child can have an abortion could rekindle under a bill moving through the Alaska House.
It's one of more than half a dozen measures restricting abortion that have sprung up in the state Legislature despite a time crunch to finish work early this year.
With weighty matters like a natural gas pipeline and a multibillion dollar budget surplus on tap, some were predicting there would be fewer bills on hot button social issues that tend to divide lawmakers and consume a lot of time.
Not so, said House Rules Committee Chairman John Coghill, R-North Pole, whose name is on four of five abortion measures in the House.
"This is a huge issue and a national debate," Coghill said. "If supreme courts are dealing with it and are disparate in their points of view, then it's a public policy issue."
Coghill is concentrating his efforts on two measures: one would make a rare late term procedure called partial birth abortion a felony for the provider in Alaska. The other would require parental notice and consent for underage girls seeking an abortion.
Both topics have been the subject of conflicting federal and state court decisions. Both bills are moving through House committees to the dismay of abortion rights supporters.
"We have a lot of important things in Alaska to consider and spending a short session talking about these controversial issues isn't a good use of time," said Clover Simon, chief executive officer for Planned Parenthood of Alaska.
It was a speedy ride to the Rules Committee for the partial birth abortion bill where it awaits scheduling for a vote of the full House. A companion bill in the Senate is expected to have a hearing in March.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee on Friday moved a measure revising the Parental Consent Act passed by the Legislature in 1997.
The act never took effect because it was immediately challenged in the courts, and a 3-2 decision by the Alaska Supreme Court last November appeared to end the 10-year legal battle.
The state's high court ruled that the parental consent requirement was unconstitutional because it infringes on a pregnant teen's right to reproductive freedom. It held that the state must use the least restrictive means of involving parents: parental notification without the veto power that comes with consent.
Coghill acknowledged that his bill requiring notice and consent will run up against the court's ruling.
"I'm pushing the limits, there's no doubt, but that was my intention anyways. I want to overturn (the Alaska Supreme Court). I think they are just so dead wrong," said Coghill.
The difference this time could be the new makeup of the state's high court with Gov. Sarah Palin's appointee Daniel Winfree of Fairbanks replacing Alex Bryner on the bench.
Thirty-five states require some type of parental involvement in a minor's decision to have an abortion but Coghill's plan would be "the harshest in the country," according to Planned Parenthood of Alaska.
"It would have disastrous consequences for the unfortunate few it affects," said Brittany Goodnight, public affairs manager for the nonprofit organization which offers reproductive health care and counseling and operates abortion clinics in Anchorage and Fairbanks.
The bill requires the consent of a parent, guardian or custodian before a minor can have an abortion unless the minor successfully petitions for court approval to waive that consent.
Goodnight said the process presents enormous hurdles for young girls, particularly those in rural areas. And with no guarantee of confidentiality for the minor written into the bill, a frightened teen could resort instead to an unsafe back alley or self-induced abortion, Goodnight said.
Of 19 girls under the age of 16 that were given abortions at the clinic in the last two years, two came in without their parents, according to Simon, who claimed those who do arrive without parents are often victims of abuse at home.
Debbie Joslin, president of Eagle Forum Alaska, a pro-family group with more than 1,000 members, said, as a parent, she has the right to know what her children are doing, and the law shouldn't stand in the way.
"God made parents for kids and the majority of the time parents are a great thing," said Joslin. "It's not right to come between a parent and a child."
The committee spent more than six hours in public testimony and debate before moving the bill onto the finance committee.
It's the second abortion bill to make it through. A bill to ban the procedure known as partial birth abortion left the House Judiciary Committee last month after a single hearing on the Martin Luther King Day holiday.
The measure, co-authored by Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, would revise the state's current law to conform with federal standards upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Fourteen states have laws in effect that prohibit the procedure. Seventeen more, including Alaska, have laws that have been blocked by courts, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion data.
Other measures introduced this year would:
limit where abortions can be performed in the state.
require only the notification of parents in the case of a teen's decision to have an abortion.
put the issue of parental consent before Alaska voters through a proposed constitutional amendment. The joint resolution would require a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to place the question on the ballot, however, "and that is a huge hill to climb," said Coghill, who opted to pursue statutory changes instead.
Some legislators say the abortion measures signal their discontent with the state's judiciary, which they complain is made up of activist judges making decisions that should be left to the Legislature.
Rep. Lindsey Holmes, D-Anchorage, doesn't see it that way.
"It's just a chipping away. It's just putting up roadblocks between women and girls and their reproductive health care," said Holmes.
Lawmakers are under a voter mandate to finish their work in 90 days - that's 30 days shorter than last year.
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