Abortion ruling win for parents, supporters say

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2001

Supporters of a law requiring minors to get permission from a parent or judge to get an abortion are claiming a small win after an Alaska Supreme Court ruling last week.

In a 3-2 opinion, the high court Friday rejected a lower court ruling declaring the so-called parental-consent law unconstitutional and ordered hearings on the case.

Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman authored the law and said the decision was "very encouraging" but stopped short of calling it a victory for parental rights.

"It's not a victory yet, but we have an opportunity for victory," said Leman, an Anchorage Republican and candidate for lieutenant governor.

Opponents of the measure vowed to continue their fight.

"We're optimistic when the evidence is brought forth it will only lend itself stronger to our case," said Anna Franks, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Alaska, which challenged the law.

The case stems from a state law passed in 1997, which paved the way for stricter oversight of girls under 17 seeking abortions. A law passed in 1970 required girls to get parental consent for an abortion but a later ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court said states must allow judges, not parents, to give consent in some circumstances, Leman said.

That ruling effectively put the state's parental-consent law on hold until lawmakers in 1997 passed a measure allowing some girls to get permission from judges for the procedure, Leman said. The intent behind the 1997 bill was to allow the state to enforce the parental-consent law, he said.

But the law was challenged by Planned Parenthood, and in 1998, Superior Court Judge Sen Tan declared it unconstitutional.

Tan said the law violated the state constitution's equal-protection clause by requiring consent for pregnant minors who choose abortion but not for those who choose to give birth. Tan rejected the law in a summary judgment, meaning he decided the issue was so clear a trial was not necessary.

The state appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which ruled Tan should have heard evidence on the central question of whether the state has a compelling interest in enforcing the parental-consent law and whether the law is properly tailored to promote the state's interest.

The Supreme Court stopped short of saying the law was constitutional but sent both sides back to trial court for a hearing. State attorney Cindy Cooper applauded the decision.

"The court agreed with us. We welcome the opportunity to present the evidence in the trial court," said Cooper, who helped defend the new law.

Franks, of Planned Parenthood, saw a silver lining in returning to Tan's court.

"The good news is it has to go back to a judge that already ruled in our favor. All we have to do is give him more evidence about why he should do that again," Franks said.

Leman, the senator, predicted the case ultimately would go back to the state Supreme Court on appeal - no matter what Tan rules this time around. Leman was encouraged by dissenting Justice Walter Carpeneti and Chief Justice Warren Matthews, who were prepared to overturn Tan's ruling and enact the law.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.

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