House passes bill to require parental consent before abortions

Posted: Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Alaska House has passed legislation that would require underage girls to obtain a parent's consent before having an abortion.

The bill passed 23-15 on Saturday with no debate. It goes to the Senate next after possible reconsideration by the House.

Sponsored by Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, the measure revises the Parental Consent Act passed by the Legislature in 1997.

The act was 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 infringed on a pregnant teen's right to reproductive freedom.

It held that the state should use the least restrictive means of involving the parent: requiring parental notification but without giving parents the right to veto an abortion.

The court's burden was to find a balance between a child's privacy rights and a parent's responsibility, Coghill said on the House floor Saturday, "and I think they missed it."

"I believe it's right to honor the parents in their responsibility to nurture and their right to be a part of that young person's health decision," he said.

If the bill becomes law, it would likely be challenged again.

The difference this time could be the new makeup of the state's high court. Gov. Sarah Plain's appointee, Daniel Winfree of Fairbanks, has replaced Alex Bryner, who cast one of the three majority votes.

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, which challenged the original act.

The organization, which offers reproductive health care and operates abortion clinics in Anchorage and Fairbanks, says most teens involve their parents, and those who don't are often victims of abuse and could be driven to seek back alley abortions.

Coghill said his bill would establish a framework for times "when parents are not good actors."

It would allow a teen to petition a court for an exemption. And if a child were abused, a doctor could proceed with the abortion after receiving an affidavit from a family member or social worker describing the abuse.

The bill would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion on a minor in violation of the act.

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