Voters to decide parent notification measure

Posted: Thursday, August 19, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Alaska voters will decide Tuesday whether a parent or guardian must be notified if a pregnant girl under 18 seeks an abortion.

A second ballot measure seeks to ban municipal governments and school districts from spending public money to lobby.

Ballot Measure 2 pits the anti-abortion advocates Alaska Family Council and Alaskans for Parental Rights vs. Planned Parenthood, American Civil Liberties Union-Alaska and Alaskans Against Government Mandates. Both sides in the bitterly contested issue say they have teenage girls' best interests at heart, and both accuse the other of pushing for government intrusion into private lives.

"It's just putting bureaucrats and it's putting the courts right in the middle of our living rooms and our families' most private decisions and affairs," said Rhiannon Good, spokeswoman for Alaskans Against Government Mandates.

Bernadette Wilson, campaign manager for Alaskans for Parental Rights, said a yes vote will get the government out of family business. A court decision now dictates what parents can know about their child's life, she said.

"We're here because of what the government did," she said. "We're here because the courts took away a parent's right."

Ballot Measure 2, both women say, is not a parental consent law.

The Legislature passed such a law but the state Supreme Court in 2007 ruled it was unconstitutional, violating a teenager's right to privacy.

The ballot measure would require doctors to inform a parent or guardian if an underage teen seeks an abortion. An attorney for Planned Parenthood says it includes the "absurd requirement" that doctors personally call a teen's parent up to five times in two-hour increments during a 24-hour period, and to verify with two pieces of identification that the guardians are who they are claimed to be.

If a guardian refused consent, the measure would require a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion could be performed.

The measure makes an exception for girls who are victims of abuse by a parent or guardian. The girl could get an abortion without parental notice by enlisting an adult relative or authorized official with personal knowledge of the abuse to sign a notarized statement about the abuse.

The argument centers on who is the best advocate for a pregnant, underage teen. Wilson's group claims that in the absence of abuse, it's the parent.

"Someone needs to know so that if complications arise from that abortion, those complications can be dealt with, such as infection, depression, an allergic reaction," she said.

The waiver for exceptions would alert authorities that a girl was being abused. As the law stands now, Wilson said, a 14-year-old girl could obtain an abortion and be sent back into an abusive situation, she said.

"How is that protecting the health and safety of our teenagers?" she asked.

Good said most teenage girls will go to their parents if they're pregnant. The ballot measure, she said, would endanger those who cannot. In states that now have parental notification laws, she said, pregnant girls don't see a distinction between consent and notification.

"All they know is that they're scared of a doctor telling their parents, and the doctor is going to call their parents," she said. "What they end up doing is delaying coming into the doctor's office at all."

That's dangerous, Good said.

"The farther along you are in a pregnancy, the more complicated a procedure is," Good said.

Supporters of the measure say girls as young as 14 should not be getting abortions on their own when parents must give permission for nearly all non-emergency procedures.

Good said there are few abortions for girls under 15, and those who seek them almost always come in with a parent. But some teens live with extended family members because of their parents' drug or alcohol problems and are likely to hope the problem goes away or look to risky options if it means informing a parent, she said.

"They need medical care and they need counseling and they need it right away," she said. "This law, I think, places a barrier between that teen and getting that care and counseling and being able to go to a doctor and having that doctor refer her to counseling or give her all her options or give her information that she needs."

Wilson said teen abortion and pregnancy rates dropped substantially in states with notification laws. Nearly 50,000 Alaskans signed a petition to put the measure on the ballot. She's optimistic the measure will pass even though her group is being outspent. With backing from Planned Parenthood and ACLU-Alaska, Alaskans Against Government Mandates reported collecting $745,383 as of July 23. Alaskans for Parental Rights reported raising $84,445.

Alaska voters also will consider Ballot Measure 1, an initiative that could change how groups lobby elected officials. Supporters claim the measure would curb undue influence on governments by contractors and unions.

The measure would ban public funds for political campaigns and lobbying by state and local government agencies, including school districts. Public money could not be used to lobby to pass a law or ask for public money. Any entity that lobbied or campaigned would be barred from receiving public funds. It would ban political contributions by government contract holders and members of their families, and it would ban legislators and staff from being employed by government contract holders for two years after leaving state service.

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