State to appeal abortion decision

Posted: Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The battle over parental consent for teenagers seeking abortions continues with the state's announcement that it will appeal a Superior Court judge's ruling that declared the law unconstitutional.

The law, which requires girls under 17 to obtain consent from their parents or a judge, has been on hold since 1997, when Planned Parenthood of Alaska filed suit against the state. Anchorage Superior Court Judge Sen Tan struck down the law for the second time Oct. 13, and the state announced the appeal on Monday.

"The government has a compelling interest to protect the health of children and to protect the family structure. When young girls talk with their parents there's nobody that better knows their medical record than their parents," said Lt. Gov. Loren Leman. "It just makes common sense to have parents involved in this, as much sense as any other medical decision involving minors."

But Anna Franks, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Alaska, said the law violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution.

"Minors who want to have the baby, minors who want to become parents, minors who might even need a Caesarean section do not even have to get permission from their parents. It sets up two classes of minors," she said. "Often, having the pregnancy, having a C-section and becoming a parent, these are all much more dangerous than having a simple abortion."

Franks said Planned Parenthood encourages young girls seeking abortions to talk to their parents.

"Unfortunately, not every teen has parents they can turn to and talk to in instances where they are considering an abortion," she said. "We don't want to challenge the law, but that's why we are."

The law includes a judicial bypass that would allow young girls who fear their parents' reaction to talk privately with a judge to obtain the consent.

Eileen Roberts, a parental consent activist from Virginia who testified at the Alaska hearing, said parents have a right to know when their daughters have abortions. Her daughter had a botched abortion at age 14 without her knowledge, requiring follow-up surgery to repair the damage.

"She couldn't have that (follow-up) surgery unless I could sign that consent form. It's ludicrous that she could have an abortion without my knowledge, but I had to sign the consent form," Roberts said.

Most other states have parental consent laws, but a handful are tied up in court and aren't being enforced. Alaska's law has been on the books for more than 30 years, but hasn't been enforced for much of that time.

The U.S. Supreme Court has taken on a number of parental consent cases over the years, and has ruled that consent laws are constitutional if they include a bypass provision.

• Masha Herbst can be reached at

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