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Lawmakers pushing for parental consent abortion referendum

About 15 percent of the Legislature says state's high court erred in ruling

Posted: Thursday, November 08, 2007

Two Republicans are leading a push by state lawmakers to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year to determine whether underage teenage girls need parental consent to have an abortion.

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Rep. John Coghill of North Pole and Sen. Fred Dyson of Eagle River are among 10 members - or about 15 percent - of the Alaska Legislature who say the state Supreme Court erred in ruling that girls 16 and younger can get abortions without permission from their parents.

"What this court decision did was put the parents out of the loop when it comes to the care, protection, nurturing and decision-making of the child," Coghill said Wednesday at a news conference. "The Legislature did everything it could to protect the privacy of a young child getting pregnant."

Clover Simon, head of Planned Parenthood of Alaska, said lawmakers should focus on more pressing priorities - ethics reform, oil taxes and future construction of a natural gas pipeline - and let the Supreme Court's ruling stand.

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"The reality is almost every single teen we've seen come to Planned Parenthood for abortion services, are coming with a parent," Simon said. "The laws are not going to fix the problem of parent-child communication."

Friday's 3-2 decision by the Supreme Court ended a 10-year battle over the Parental Consent Act passed by the Legislature in 1997.

The majority opinion written by Chief Justice Dana Fabe said the law "places a burden on minors' fundamental right to privacy."

But in the dissent, Justice Walter Carpeneti wrote, "society has long-standing and pervasive interests in protecting children from their own immaturity."

The final decision riled many legislators, including Coghill and Dyson, who want to put the question before voters as a proposed constitutional amendment. Lawmakers are now immersed in a special session over oil taxes, so no formal action can be taken until January when the Legislature returns for its regular session.

On Friday, Gov. Sarah Palin called the Supreme Court ruling "outrageous" and directed Attorney General Talis Colberg to file a petition for a rehearing.

Palin later said she supports putting the parental consent question on the ballot, said the governor's spokeswoman Sharon Leighow.

At least two-thirds of the House's 40 members and Senate's 20 members each must approve a resolution to put the issue on the ballot.

"Parents must be able to control the medical care their children get," Dyson said. "Aside from how you view the abortion issue, this denigration of parental rights is absolutely unacceptable."

The issue of parental consent or parental notification for a teen to receive an abortion is playing out nationwide.

According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, 43 states restrict young women's access to abortion with a parental notice or consent. But of those states, seven had laws ultimately ruled to be unconstitutional or unenforceable, including Alaska.

The results are wide-ranging.

Voters in California turned back the state's first abortion-related measure, 53 percent to 47 percent, in 2005. The proposal would have required doctors to alert parents before performing the procedure on minors.

In Idaho last spring, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed into law a bill requiring minor girls to get permission from a parent or guardian for an abortion. However, teens can bypass their parents and received a judge's approval in cases such as incest, abuse or a medical emergency.

In New Hampshire in 2006 Gov. John Lynch approved legislation to make the state the first to repeal a 2003 law requiring parents be notified before a minor receives an abortion. Like Alaska's Parental Consent Act, New Hampshire's repealed law never took affect.



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