Family sues hospital, social worker over teen's Outside abortion

Lawsuit alleges 15-year old girl led to Seattle without parents' knowledge

Posted: Friday, April 29, 2005

ANCHORAGE - A teenager and her parents have sued a social worker who they say helped the girl get an out-of-state abortion two years ago - without the parents' knowledge.

The lawsuit alleges that a social worker at a clinic connected with Providence Alaska Medical Center led the then-15-year-old girl to seek an abortion and arranged for her to obtain it in Seattle at government expense, without her parents' knowledge or approval.

Also named as defendants are the Sisters of Providence, doing business as Providence Health System Alaska and Providence Family Practice Center.

The girl is now 17.

The Legislature in 1997 passed a law requiring that girls under 17 get approval either from their parents or a judge before obtaining an abortion. The law has never taken effect because of court challenges.

"Whether you agree or disagree with parental consent or parental notification, this isn't the right way," said attorney Yale Metzger, who is representing the family. The girl and her parents are seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress.

Providence, a Catholic institution, does not perform abortions but will refer patients to where they can get one, said spokeswoman Karina Jennings.

A staff member may bring up the option of an abortion if a patient indicates the pregnancy is unwanted, she said.

"We believe we followed good sound medical practice in this case," Jennings said.

According Metzger and allegations in the lawsuit, the girl in March 2003 was 15 weeks pregnant and had not told her parents.

On March 4, 2003, the girl, her boyfriend and his mother went to Providence Family Practice Center for prenatal care and to ask about services such as health coverage and a nutrition program.

They met with the social worker, who suggested the girl return alone later in the day, according to the lawsuit.

Clinic records obtained by Metzger on behalf of the girl include notes from the social worker that the patient was feeling scared about her pregnancy and felt she was too young to have a child, the attorney said. It was at that point that the social worker counseled the girl on "pregnancy options," he said.

Because she was past the first trimester, she needed to go outside the state for an abortion, the attorney said.

An abortion was scheduled at the Cedar River Clinic in Renton, Wash., operated by the Feminist Women's Health Center, Metzger said.

The travel and the abortion were covered by Denali KidCare, the state-run insurance program that covers low- and middle-income children and pregnant women, Metzger said.

Her 17-year-old boyfriend went with her at the state expense through Denali KidCare, Metzger said.

The parents found out their daughter was seeking an abortion when she did not come home. Frantic, they called police. An older daughter told them where the girl was, the lawsuit said.

The girl had the abortion March 20 and came home the next day, he said.

Under state policy, minors traveling for state-paid health care are supposed to be accompanied by a parent, guardian or designee, and it's always supposed to be an adult, according to Sherry Hill, special assistant in the Department of Health and Social Services. That may conflict with the court rulings on minors and abortion, she said.

Last year in Alaska, 154 girls age 17 or younger had an abortion, and about 45 percent were covered by Medicaid or Denali KidCare, according to the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics. That's out of 1,937 abortions in Alaska during the same year.

Under a 2001 state Supreme Court ruling, the state cannot refuse to pay for medically necessary abortions, as long as it also pays for prenatal care and childbirth, said Anna Franks, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Alaska.

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