ANCHORAGE - A lawyer for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest told the Alaska Supreme Court Thursday that an initiative requiring parental notification for girls under 18 seeking an abortion should be kept off the ballot.
Attorney Jeff Feldman argued that more than 36,000 voters who signed the initiative petition were not given key information, such as the felony charge physicians could face if they failed to properly inform a parent.
"There is a certain core of information that has to be provided," Feldman said.
Attorneys for the initiative sponsors and the state argued that flaws in the summary of the effort were minor and could be corrected. They said more harm would be created by throwing out the initiative and making sponsors start over.
Planned Parenthood was appealing a decision by Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner, who said the measure could appear before voters in the August primary. However, he ordered state officials to write an accurate summary for the ballot.
Arguments Thursday, in which both sides were given a little more than a half hour, focused on how defective summary language would have to be in order to keep an initiative from voters.
"How do we determine whether these people would have signed the petition or not," Justice Daniel E. Winfree asked at one point.
Justice Dana Fabe asked if other initiative measures proposing penalties, such as the 2004 measure prohibiting bear baiting, had omitted misdemeanor or felony consequences.
Feldman said gathering signatures was an important screening function in Alaska's initiative process that should not be swept away with the promise of corrected ballot language.
"It pretty much neuters the screening function," he said.
A summary of a measure, he said, should list rights created or abolished. The parental notification summary went into detail about how an underage girl could be excused from school to attend a court hearing for a waiver of parental notification, or to have an abortion. However, it omitted what Feldman called the "absurd requirement" for physicians to personally call parents up to five times in two-hour increments during a 24-hour period, or to verify with two pieces of identification that the guardians were who they claimed to be.
Physicians could face penalties of up to five years in prison if they did not follow the law.
"These are pretty onerous requirements," Feldman said, not the trifles claimed by initiative sponsors.
Attorney Kevin Clarkson represented the sponsors, including former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, Kim Hummer-Minnery, whose husband is president of the Alaska Family Council, a Christian pro-family anti-abortion group, and Mia Costello, a Republican state House hopeful. Clarkson said they were being penalized for an initiative summary written by the lieutenant governor's office.
Summaries were not meant to include every detail of an initiative's effect, he said. Pulling the measure for minor defects would defeat the intent of initiative language in the state constitution.
Clarkson said there was no indication that the people who signed the petition did not understand it. The burden to show they were misled belonged to those challenging the initiative, he argued.
Assistant Attorney General Joanne Grace, representing the lieutenant governor's office, said deficiencies in the initiative summary could be corrected through ballot language and the inevitable public discussion and media coverage.
"There's still enough time for voters to get all the information they need about this initiative," Grace said.
Voters who signed the petition knew enough about the issue to want to see it on the August ballot, she said.
Grace also said making sponsors start from scratch would undercut the public's faith in the initiative process.
Fabe said the court would take the matter under advisement.
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