My turn: Young women's abortion decisions are already too burdened by conflict

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2005

Recent news coverage throughout the state has included a story of a young woman whose parents are now suing the State of Alaska because she was permitted to go to Seattle to obtain an abortion without involving her parents in the decision. The news coverage is generally focused on one primary question: Why wasn't she required to have parental consent for this procedure?

There are many other questions, however, that should be asked: Why did this young woman have to fly to Seattle to undergo a safe medical procedure when she lives in a state that has skilled medical professionals? Why could she not remain among friends and family while she pondered this decision? Would the time and opportunity to reflect while at home have led her to decide she really would rather confide in her parents? And would a less-charged environment, one that encompasses the complexity of these issues and reveals the areas of gray, rather than one that polarizes the issue into extremes to be viewed only as black or white, allow her to openly weigh the consequences of her decision with people she trusts?

Children today are continually faced with choices that we feel they are too young to have to make. If we wish to be consulted when our children are struggling with choices that may affect their lives forever, there are ways of encouraging direct and clear communication. We can assure our children that we will stand by them, even when their choices put them and us in difficult or embarrassing situations. Most importantly, by our actions we can demonstrate that we will not demand that our children accept consequences sourced in our own ideology, but that we will respect their choices as their own.

While we can all sympathize with a young person who has made a choice she may regret, we should also appreciate that she is able to learn from her mistakes and choose a different course of action the next time she is presented with similar circumstances. In this case, she fears she may have made a mistake. Yet, she did not lose her life by attempting her own coat-hanger abortion. She was not rendered sterile by a back-alley procedure. The loss she now feels can inform her decision-making in her promising future.

When we go about establishing our laws, we must be mindful that they will be generally applied, affecting many. They will affect those children who have loving, compassionate parents and those who have not been blessed with parents they can turn to for a loving response. As much as we would like all children to have a secure home, we also know there are many children in our state who, even in their homes, are subject to horrible abuse. Our laws should not be constructed to place further burdens on such young people. Young people deserve our trust, and that includes our trust they will make their best decisions when they must make difficult choices.

Ironically, the success of the anti-abortion movement in limiting Alaskans' access to safe abortions is one of the reasons that the parental consent law probably will be found unconstitutional. The campaign against abortions in Alaska and the lethal attacks on abortion providers throughout the country during the last decade have seriously limited the number of abortion providers in Alaska.

The "judicial bypass" procedure requires a young woman to appeal to a court system that can be intimidating and petition a judge she doesn't know for a determination of whether she is mature enough to make her own decision. The Alaska Supreme Court will likely have to conclude that, because of the many serious barriers to securing abortion services in Alaska, it is unacceptable to impose yet more procedures on a young woman's exercise of an already heavily burdened constitutional right.

• Kristen Bomengen is a Juneau attorney and a former assistant attorney general for the state of Alaska.

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