Parental Consent Law Struck Down
On October 13, an Alaska state judge struck down a law that required young women under the age of 17 to obtain the consent of a parent or a judge before having an abortion. Superior Court Judge Sen K. Tan ruled that the law violated teens’ rights to equal protection under the state’s constitution because it requires them to involve a parent only in their decision to have an abortion, not in other medical decisions such as carrying a pregnancy to term. The courts have blocked enforcement of the law since its enactment in 1997.
“The risks to the health of the mother that are associated with pregnancy and childbirth are higher than the risks associated with abortion,” wrote Judge Tan. “If the purpose of the Act is to protect the health of pregnant minors, it is incongruous to burden the decision to choose the safer procedure, but allow minors to choose the more dangerous course without parental consent.”
“The court has recognized that this law discriminates against the reproductive rights of young women and violates the Alaska Constitution,” said Janet Crepps, Staff Attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead counsel on the case. “For some young women, speaking with parents about abortion means facing physical and emotional abuse. This law not only denies young women their constitutional rights, but also puts them in a situation where they could be seriously harmed or forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their will.”
The Plaintiff’s attorneys presented extensive evidence at trial showing that most minors-especially younger ones-inform at least one parent or family member of a planned abortion. Many minors who don’t involve a parent voluntarily consult another adult, such as a grandparent or older sibling. Those who sidestep their parents are often motivated by fear of abuse, violence or pressure to continue the pregnancy to term. For battered teenagers and incest survivors in particular, mandatory parental involvement laws increase the risks of an already dangerous situation.
In 1998, Judge Tan granted the Plaintiff’s petition to strike down the law without a trial and ruled that the Alaska Parental Consent Act and Judicial Authorization Act was unconstitutional. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed that decision and ordered that the state of Alaska be allowed to present evidence in the case.
Janet Crepps and Suzanne Novak of the Center for Reproductive Rights and Jeffrey Feldman and Julie Rikelman of Feldman & Orlansky represent the plaintiffs in Planned Parenthood of Alaska et al. vs. State of Alaska. Plaintiffs include Planned Parenthood of Alaska and Jan Whitefield, M.D.