Alaska's abortion consent law rejected

Superior Court judge's ruling draws criticism from lieutenant governor

Posted: Thursday, October 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE - A Superior Court judge has struck down as unconstitutional a state law that requires minors seeking an abortion to get consent from a parent or judge.

Monday's ruling by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Sen Tan drew criticism from Alaska's lieutenant governor.

Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, a Republican and former state senator who sponsored the 1997 law, said the ruling "is way out of step with mainstream judicial reasoning."

"This is yet another example of judicial activism, of judges exceeding their constitutional authority and acting as writers of the law, rather than interpreters of it," Leman said in a statement issued late Tuesday.

Kevin Clarkson, the Anchorage attorney who defended the statute at the trial in January, said he expects the state will appeal Tan's ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The law requires unmarried girls younger than 17 to get a parent's or judge's permission to have an abortion. The law has been on hold since 1997 pending the outcome of the lawsuit of Planned Parenthood of Alaska against the state.

In 1998 Tan, without holding a trial, ruled the law was unconstitutional. Tan said all Alaskans have an equal right to make personal decisions. But the state Supreme Court, in a 3-2 vote in 2001, ordered Tan to take testimony on whether the state has a compelling interest in requiring minors to get consent.

The judge concluded the state does have compelling interests, such as protecting minors from their own immature judgment, protecting their physical and emotional health, and protecting them against sex abuse, Clarkson said.

But Tan's decision said the law doesn't accomplish those goals in the least restrictive way.

Anna Franks, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Alaska, said Wednesday she was satisfied with the ruling. But it's unfortunate that parental involvement was even an issue, she said.

"In a perfect world, all minors would have parents who they could talk to about these matters," Franks said. "Sadly, we don't live in a perfect world and so we challenged the law to protect the few minors who cannot seek parental consent for fear of physical or mental retribution. We adamantly support parental involvement. Our protocols require staff to encourage minors to involve their parents in their reproductive health decisions."

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