Compromise abortion bill introduced in Senate

Measure would require notification, not consent for minors under age 17

Posted: Monday, April 06, 2009

Legislation seeking a compromise over the issue of parental consent for a teen's abortion was introduced Friday in the Alaska Senate.

The measure would require that a parent or guardian be notified before a minor under the age of 17 can have an abortion, but their consent would not be required.

Bill sponsor Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, said he would prefer to see the Senate approve the House parental consent bill that passed Thursday, but a similar bill stalled in the Senate last year. Huggins said the notice requirement stood a better chance.

"I would vote for the House version and sponsor the House version. However, in the business of politics, I don't think we can get that through the Senate," he said.

The House consent bill was modeled on the 1997 Parental Consent Act struck down by the Alaska Supreme Court in 2007.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said last year that he would not allow it to move through his committee until it was made constitutional. The bill never had a hearing and the Senate bipartisan majority resisted efforts by Eagle River Republican Fred Dyson to bypass the committee process and bring the bill to a vote on the floor.

But Dyson said Huggins' notice bill is a step in the right direction.

"I'm willing to get half a loaf if we can't get a whole one. As my wife famously says about me, 'It's better than nothing,"' Dyson said.

It's unclear how the notification bill will fare with two weeks left in the session, though bills can move fast in the final days. The measure has two committees of referral, both chaired by Democrats who either would not comment or were not available.

And both Gov. Sarah Palin and Planned Parenthood have panned the bill, for very different reasons.

Palin said the House consent bill from Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, was good as-is.

"I have faith that the pro-parent's-rights lawmakers agree that if we require Alaska's kids to have their parent's consent before they're given a Tylenol from the school nurse, or before getting their ears pierced, that they understand why many parents support Rep. Coghill's bill, as written," Palin wrote in an e-mail statement.

Clover Simon, head of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, said the bill does not address the concerns the group had with the consent bill. For example, both would allow a teen from an abusive home to petition a judge to waive the notice or consent requirement. But Simon said that provision would be unworkable for teens in remote rural areas.

"If Planned Parenthood was going to support a notice bill, it would have to look significantly different and really have the interest of the teen at the forefront," Simon said.

In 2007, the Alaska Supreme Court threw out the 1997 Parental Consent Act in a case brought by Planned Parenthood. However, it left open the possibility of a law requiring notice only.

In a 3-2 vote, the state's high court ruled that the law infringed on a pregnant teen's rights to reproductive freedom and was unconstitutional.

Chief Justice Dana Fabe wrote the majority opinion on behalf of herself and Justices Robert Eastaugh and Alexander Bryner:

"We decide today that the State has an undeniably compelling interest in protecting the health of minors and in fostering family involvement in a minor's decisions regarding her pregnancy," Fabe wrote.

"And contrary to the arguments of Planned Parenthood, we determine that the constitution permits a statutory scheme which ensures that parents are notified so that they can be engaged in their daughters' important decisions in these matters.

"But we ultimately conclude that the Act does not strike the proper constitutional balance between the State's compelling interests and a minor's fundamental right to privacy."

The court now has two Palin appointees who have replaced justices that ruled on separate sides of the issue. It's unclear how the new justices might rule if the case reaches the high court again.

Meanwhile, Coghill said he would continue to press for parental consent but settle for parental notice if he must.

"If that's what they return to me, that's more movement than no movement," he said. "I've said all along that I'd look favorably on that, and maybe that gave them too much encouragement, but I will go lobby my case and we'll see what we can get."

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