Superior Court Upholds Parental Notification Law
October 10, 2012
The law, enacted by voter initiative in August 2010, requires that the parent of any minor seeking an abortion be notified at least 48 hours before the abortion is performed, except in cases of medical emergency, abuse, or when a minor obtains court permission to have an abortion without parental notice.
The legal challenge to the Parental Notification Law was filed by Planned Parenthood of the Great North West (PPGNW), which claimed that the law violated their minor patients’ right to privacy, equal protection and due process, and that it was too vague for physicians to follow. PPGNW sought to enjoin the law in its entirety. In December 2010, the Superior Court enjoined some portions of the law, including civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance, but allowed the majority of the law to go into effect.
At a three-week trial in February and March of 2012, numerous expert witnesses testified about the need for parental notification and the effect that a parental notification law would have on minors seeking an abortion.
In its decision, the Superior Court enjoined certain peripheral features of the law, but upheld the core provisions. The court rejected Planned Parenthood’s constitutional challenges, and found that Alaska’s judicial bypass provisions work effectively; that the medical emergency provisions were not unconstitutionally vague; and that the law serves the state’s compelling interest in promoting family cohesion. Of particular note, the court restored the criminal penalties that it had earlier enjoined.
The Parental Notification Law replaces a parental consent law enacted by the Legislature in 1999, which was struck down by the Alaska Supreme Court in 2007. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the consent law was unconstitutional because a law requiring that a parent be notified, rather than give consent, before an abortion is performed would place less burden on minors’ ability to obtain an abortion. The Superior Court observed in its ruling on the Parental Notification Law that the Alaska Supreme Court had strongly signaled such a law would pass constitutional muster.
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