My Turn: Parents trumped in abortion decision

Posted: Monday, May 16, 2005

Several Alaska media sources recently ran a story about a state social worker who arranged for a 15-year-old girl to get an abortion without her parents' knowledge. The state even paid for the girl and her 17-year-old boyfriend to travel to Seattle for an abortion.

The girl's parents found out only when their daughter did not return home one night in March 2003. They frantically called police in their search for their daughter. Once they learned about her impending abortion, they hurried to the Anchorage airport. Sadly, she had already left. The parents wanted to help their daughter through her pregnancy and help her raise her child. The girl, now 17, regrets her decision to abort.

This heartbreaking and horrifying case is just one more example of why Alaska's parental consent law needs to be enforced. This law, which has been on the books for 35 years, has really never functioned as intended. Following its Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court has required a "judicial bypass," an alternative mechanism that allows minor girls to talk privately with a judge, instead of a parent, to request consent for an abortion. In 1997, I sponsored and the Legislature passed legislation to provide this bypass. Although parental consent for abortion is supported by nearly 80 percent of Alaskans, it still has not been enforced during the past eight years because of legal wrangling by Planned Parenthood and others. The Alaska Supreme Court will soon render its decision on the state's appeal.

This family's grief could have been avoided. The girl's parents were not even advised that their daughter was facing a huge medical decision. Even though they knew her medical history better than anyone else, they were not asked for it when she was sent for surgery. It would have been far less risky for the girl to make her decision with counsel from her loving parents.

This is not a one-time occurrence. State records show that 154 girls age 16 and under had abortions in Alaska in 2004. Plus other girls traveled out-of-state for abortions. Likely many of these also did not have parental consent.

I had to provide consent for my two daughters to get their ears pierced when they turned 12. All our children had to have authorization from their mother or me to get even an aspirin from their school nurse. But because of Superior Court action, a young teenage girl doesn't have to get permission to travel out-of-state for abortion surgery that will affect her physically and emotionally, perhaps for the rest of her life.

Parents need to be involved in their children's lives. Many people rightfully call for parents to be more responsible when their child vandalizes, is involved in an accident or does not do well in school. Why wouldn't we want parents to be involved in their children's medical care?

I believe it is my duty, right and responsibility to be there for my children. I believe you want the same for yours.

• Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, is Alaska's lieutenant governor.

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