Parental consent for abortions not needed, court rules

Justices call act unconstitutional

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Alaska Supreme Court ruled Friday that underage teenage girls can get abortions without parental consent.

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The ruling drew praise from Planned Parenthood as well as the ire of some lawmakers and Gov. Sarah Palin, who called the decision "outrageous."

The Alaska Legislature passed the state's Parental Consent Act in 1997, prompting a legal challenge from Planned Parenthood. The law required girls 16 years old and younger to get a parent's permission to receive an abortion.

In Friday's 3-2 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the law infringes on a pregnant teen's rights to reproductive freedom. The decision backed a Superior Court ruling that found the law unconstitutional.

Chief Justice Dana Fabe wrote the majority opinion on behalf of herself and Justices Robert Eastaugh and Alexander Bryner:

"We decide today that the state has an undeniably compelling interest in protecting the health of minors and in fostering family involvement in a minor's decisions regarding her pregnancy," Fabe wrote.

"And contrary to the arguments of Planned Parenthood, we determine that the constitution permits a statutory scheme which ensures that parents are notified so that they can be engaged in their daughters' important decisions in these matters.

"But we ultimately conclude that the Act does not strike the proper constitutional balance between the state's compelling interests and a minor's fundamental right to privacy."

Clover Simon, head of Planned Parenthood of Alaska, called the decision as a "victory."

"It upholds teens' rights to privacy just like any other woman seeking reproductive health care," she said.

Simon said most teens seek parental involvement when making a decision about abortion.

"The law never was put into effect, so teens haven't been affected at this point," she said. "The majority of teens we see at this clinic do have parental involvement, which is important."

Justice Walter Carpeneti wrote the dissenting opinion on behalf of himself and Justice Warren Matthews.

"The Alaska Legislature carefully balanced the constitutional right of an underage pregnant girl to privacy and the state's compelling interests in protecting children against their own immaturity and protecting parents' constitutional right (and duty) to guide their children to maturity," Carpeneti wrote.

"Because the PCA is the least restrictive alternative which will effectively advance the state's compelling interests while protecting the child's constitutional right, we should hold that the Superior Court erred in invalidating it."

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, agreed.

"I can barely contain my contempt for the three judges who signed that ruling," he said. "It's right along the path of their agenda: They attempt to be lawmakers instead of judges."

Palin said she has directed Attorney General Talis Colberg to file a petition for a rehearing.

"It is outrageous that a minor girl can get an abortion without parental consent," she said in a prepared statement. "The State Supreme Court has failed Alaska by separating parents from their children during such a critical decision, moving in the exact opposite direction from the law's intent."

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